A smart, beguiling work elegantly written and with just the right leavening of sex—and violence.

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THE SOLITARY TWIN

Atmospheric study by the late avant-garde writer Mathews (My Life in the CIA, 2005, etc.), the first American member of the French Oulipo cooperative.

A seaside village, its inhabitants a mix of the moneyed, the intellectual, and the seafaring working class. The first to appear in Mathews’ slender tale are Berenice Tinker and Andreas Boeyens, who trade arch quips and aperçus (“Do you not drink sourpuss martinis to ‘mortify a taste for vintages’?”). A few sentences in, Berenice allows that she’s seen John that day, John being one of the Beatles-named twins, the other Paul, who have turned up in town and are setting tongues to wagging: they live on opposite sides of the village, and though they share a taste for pale ale and black cigars, they have not much else in common, from their modes of dress to their religious leanings and lines of work, one mercantile, the other blue-collar. Tellingly, our narrator tells us, “They were in fact never seen together and apparently avoided all commerce with one another.” It does not occur to some of the villagers to wonder why this should be so until late in the game, though others remark from the start that there’s something just a little bit off in the twins’ relationship: “I find their behavior more than a little upsetting,” says one well-heeled denizen, but only because the two apparently have so little to do with each other. Well, there’s a reason for all that. Mathews’ story, with flashing hints of bedroom farce and Hitchcock-ian thriller alike, takes a few twists, sometimes digressing into interior yarns that seem to lose the thread until just the right moment; it’s a structural marvel, the product of a master at work. The novel is also perhaps the most accessible of Mathews’ later books, especially as it careens toward an end that is more reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith than Georges Perec.

A smart, beguiling work elegantly written and with just the right leavening of sex—and violence.

Pub Date: March 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2754-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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