The main problem with this domestic melodrama is that the absence of the title character leaves a big hole not only in the...

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LOSING CHARLOTTE

Clay’s debut novel has plenty to say about familial relationships in general and sisterhood in particular.

The two sisters in a well-to-do Kentucky horse-raising family couldn’t be more different, at least from the perspective of the younger. Charlotte is older, prettier, more daring and impulsive. She sneaks away whenever she can and moves away, ultimately to New York, as soon as possible. Knox takes the other role—dependable, dutiful, solid, yet simmering with resentment at the sister who has aroused her jealousy and left her with their parents. There “was a familiar rhythm between Knox and Charlotte, or had been in the years since they’d become grown women who nevertheless remembered what it was like to hurl childish invective at each other, to love and hate each other so nakedly, and so simultaneously, that the mere existence of the other could serve as an intolerable, maddening offense.” Things change, or at least show the potential for change, when Charlotte marries a man she barely knows, “Yuppie Bruce,” with whom she experiences a difficult conception and succumbs to complications in childbirth. So both her husband and her family have lost Charlotte, as have her baby twin sons, depriving the novel of the only character who has shown the possibility for dimensions beyond cliché. Flashbacks keep Charlotte’s memory alive while confusing the chronology of the narrative, as Knox and Bruce, who barely know each other, stumble toward more reflective insights into themselves, each other and Charlotte. “It was a mystery, having a sister,” realizes Knox, now that she no longer has one. Meanwhile, her parents and her fiancé (who works for Knox’s father and whose affectionate name for her is “Ugly”) offer little surprise or revelation.

The main problem with this domestic melodrama is that the absence of the title character leaves a big hole not only in the family dynamic but in the plot. Like her family, the reader misses Charlotte.

Pub Date: March 25, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-375-41538-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2010

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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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