Smart, well-written, and thoroughly gripping.

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THE IMPROBABILITY OF LOVE

Following her biography of a jazz-loving great aunt (The Baroness, 2013), Rothschild shifts gears to imagine art-world shenanigans prompted by a long-lost Watteau painting in her first novel.

Readers know the painting’s creator and name from the prologue, which opens on the day of The Improbability of Love’s highly publicized auction. To show how it got there, Rothschild rolls back the action six months to introduce her engagingly disheveled heroine, Annie, a shellshocked refugee from a failed long-term relationship struggling to find her professional and emotional footing in London. Annie buys the painting on a whim in a junk shop, never dreaming that it’s anything important. Jesse, a young painter she meets in a museum, sees genius in this portrait of a man hopelessly gazing at an adored woman, but Annie’s more interested in making a good impression at her new gig as chef for icy Rebecca Winkleman and her father, Memling, proprietors of a powerful art dealership. Memling, an Auschwitz survivor with an uncanny knack for bringing high-quality paintings of vague provenance to market, is not what he seems and has a very pressing reason for retrieving the painting now in Annie’s possession. Rothschild deftly spins an elaborate web of intrigue involving a raft of sharply drawn secondary characters, including Annie’s alcoholic mother and an aging bon vivant who helps rich people spend their money. But the story’s emotional center is Annie’s quest for recognition—many scrumptious descriptions of meal preparations reveal her as a brilliant cook—and battle-scarred reluctance to realize that sweet Jesse is the man for her. Even the painting gets a few monologues (amusing, though adding little of substance) as the action moves through multiple, often nail-biting plot twists—yes, there are a few convenient coincidences, put across by the fast pace and vivid prose—toward a slightly hasty but nonetheless satisfying resolution.

Smart, well-written, and thoroughly gripping.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-101-87414-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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