A welcome (if, alas, posthumous) introduction to a sui generis writer.

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THE SCENT OF BUENOS AIRES

The first collection in English from the acclaimed Argentine short story writer (1936-2018) who possessed a well-trained eye for life’s idiosyncrasies.

Uhart’s stories often turn on the simplest of everyday settings: baking a cake at home, a trip to a hair salon, a day at an elementary school, a homeowners’ association meeting. Yet the delivery is just a touch off-center, as if her prose were microdosed: The narrator of “At the Hair Salon” imagines the woman washing her hair “rations out the assault like a cat” and figures the pedicurist “was destined for heroic deeds, like driving a tank in the steppe”; the homeowners’ meeting escalates from complaints about mail delivery to climate change. The offbeat observations are fitting for characters who tend to see the absurdity of existence: “Human beings are radically alone,” says one character; “the world was just one big prison,” thinks another. Sometimes Uhart's stories take a fablelike form, as in “The Wandering Dutchman,” about a foreigner’s bemused travels through the Argentine countryside (“the whole world was a concert of cows, doves, and frogs”), or “Mister Ludo,” about a man who hikes his family from town to town with six children in a line behind him, as if they were ducklings. But the stories are unified by Uhart’s interest in families, especially women’s roles within them. The opening “Guiding the Ivy” follows the narrator, who is going about her day while fearing becoming a woman whose “life was in a perpetual state of disaster”; in “The Light of a New Day,” an elderly woman fears for the neglect of her neighbor, who’s broken her hip. These stories rarely adhere to conventional plots, but as mood pieces they’re effective glimpses into the peculiarities of Uhart's characters, who crave order but usually concede that the world's default mode is disarray.

A welcome (if, alas, posthumous) introduction to a sui generis writer.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-939810-34-2

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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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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