DeWitt continues to explore the limits of storytelling with these slyly charming tales.

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SOME TRICK

Short works from the author of Lightning Rods (2011) and The Last Samurai (2000).

“Many years ago a friend commented that we rarely see fiction that shows the way mathematicians think.” Few authors would take this observation as a challenge, but few authors are like DeWitt. One of the distinguishing features of DeWitt’s work is a sense of curiosity. She seems to find everything interesting, so she makes everything interesting. The story that springs from that friend’s offhand remark is “My Heart Belongs to Bertie,” the tale of a man who writes children’s books that explain complex mathematical principles. The story contains charts mapping various probabilities, and if that sounds tedious, it is not, because DeWitt has crafted an utterly sympathetic character who would most definitely use charts. “Famous Last Words” includes equations that will probably be inscrutable to most readers, but the very fact that the equations are there tells us so much about the two people who inhabit this odd love story. Literary theory is deftly deployed. There are amusing and illuminating footnotes. Many of these pieces depict the backside or underside of creative work. DeWitt explores the impact of contractual obligations on music, for example, as well as the inner workings of the publishing industry as seen from a variety of viewpoints. Money is shown to be more important than we tend to like to think it is when it comes to art. DeWitt’s wide-ranging intellect makes these stories, but it’s her sense of humor and profound humanity that make them work. She approaches her weirdos and screw-ups with keen-eyed honesty but also with sincere affection. And the first story, “Brutto,” has one of the most satisfying closing lines ever. This collection has many delights, but it’s worth picking up just for that.

DeWitt continues to explore the limits of storytelling with these slyly charming tales.

Pub Date: May 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2782-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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