Although Kimmel can write with real charm, the characters feel manufactured in this overly schematic plot.

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THE USED WORLD

Kimmel returns to the rural, small-town Indiana landscape of her memoirs (She Got Up Off the Couch, 2006, etc.) and her first novel (The Solace of Leaving Early, 2002), as well as to some favorite themes—beloved mothers; absent fathers; and what it means to be a Christian today.

Hazel, whose tough old hide conceals a soft heart, owns the eponymous second-hand store. There she employs Claudia, a mannishly big, desperately lonely woman in her 40s, and petite, 20-something Rebekah. Claudia has always avoided venturing beyond the bosom of her family and is still mourning her mother’s death three years ago when Hazel manipulates her into caring for an abandoned baby. After her own adored mother’s death, Rebekah rejected the strict Christian sect within which she was raised but has continued to live at home with her dictatorial father Vernon. When Rebekah’s boyfriend gets her pregnant and disappears, Vernon kicks Rebekah out. Hazel convinces Rebekah to go to Claudia’s for refuge. Suddenly Claudia finds herself with both a baby and a young woman to love. Interspersed with the ups and downs of Claudia and Rebekah’s relationship as they form a makeshift family is the story of Hazel’s adolescence during the 1960s and her past connection to Vernon, the novel’s obvious villain. Hazel’s best friend Finney, whom Hazel loved, perhaps more than platonically, became involved with a married man—Vernon. Jim, a young man who loved Hazel, married Finney to protect her when she became pregnant with Vernon’s child. Vernon’s violent attempt to take Finney’s infant for his wife to adopt caused Finney’s death, Jim’s brain damage and the stillbirth of a boy who would have been Rebekah’s brother. As if to counter Vernon’s narrow-minded brand of Christianity, Kimmel inserts conversation with Claudia’s enlightened Christian minister Amos, whose relationship with Claudia remains a red herring.

Although Kimmel can write with real charm, the characters feel manufactured in this overly schematic plot.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-7432-4778-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

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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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