A shadowy tale of the power of projection that’s swamped by the narrator's rambling nature.

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THE DITCH

How can the mayor of Amsterdam possibly think of running a city when his wife may be cheating on him and his parents are planning to kill themselves?

Robert, the narrator of Koch’s fourth novel translated into English (Dear Mr. M, 2016, etc.), is a little obsessed and on edge. A New Year’s party brings official chatter about managing soccer fans and the impact of a visit by President Barack Obama, but Robert has his eyes trained on his wife, Sylvia, who he suspects is having an affair with an alderman. On what evidence? Nothing but her laughing as the alderman “had his hand on her elbow and was whispering something in her ear.” But paranoia has an easy grip on Robert's dark temperament, as it often does in Koch’s fiction; much of the novel turns on Robert's searching his memory for proof of Sylvia's disaffection. And the bleakness metastasizes: Did he hasten the suicide of a staffer caught embezzling? Should he intervene on his parents’ plans to soberly kill themselves? (“Not right away,” his nonagenarian father tells him. “In September or October. Autumn, a nice time of year for a double funeral.”) A Paris trip with Sylvia does nothing to alleviate his anxiety, and he grows determined to “be the mole in my own life”; as the story presses on, threads about mortality, murder, and Robert’s past history of alleged violence begin to connect. The connection is an awkward one, though. Koch has crafted a pitch-perfect tone for a man consumed by jealousy, which in part demands some digression and ranting. But longueurs about trash-pickup policies and wind power are distracting, even as they intend to reveal Robert’s distractedness, and dampen the impact of the (somewhat) revealing final chapters.

A shadowy tale of the power of projection that’s swamped by the narrator's rambling nature.

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-57238-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 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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