“What would Anita Brookner do?” asks one of Mantel’s protagonists. The answer, we’d like to think, is this: She’d read...

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THE ASSASSINATION OF MARGARET THATCHER

STORIES

Best known for historical novels such as Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring up the Bodies (2012), Mantel proves herself a skilled practitioner of short fiction as well.

“In those days, the doorbell didn’t ring often, and if it did I would draw back into the body of the house.” So opens the first story in Mantel’s slender collection. Like the title story, and indeed like several others, it has a certain claustrophobic, reticent feel to it, its protagonist a retiring type thrust into discomfort by the larger events at play in the street outside. All of the pieces are worthy of our attention, but the title story is a true tour de force: A house-proud suburbanite has a kitchen window that opens onto a view of a hospital where Margaret Thatcher, in 1983, has had eye surgery, and it is that kitchen window that an IRA sniper wishes to use in order to do the Iron Lady in. Or perhaps not the IRA; remarks the householder, “It crossed my mind then he might not be a Provisional, but from one of the mad splinter groups you heard of.” Can she dissuade the shooter? Will she come to take his view that it’s no crime to slay the killer of so many innocents? All will be revealed—but after a nice cup of tea, mind you. Mantel blows up very thin balloons by way of situations and then takes a needle to them: Another story concerns a case of misread intentions in an expat cloister in Saudi Arabia, one of its players described thus: “spiritless, freckled, limp, she was a faded redhead who seemed huddled into herself, unused to conversation.” You just know that great things aren’t going to come from her, and certainly not the history-changing murder of a world leader, just as most of Mantel’s characters are retiring, confused people without much of a clue but who muddle on all the same.

“What would Anita Brookner do?” asks one of Mantel’s protagonists. The answer, we’d like to think, is this: She’d read Mantel’s latest, and she’d delight in it.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62779-210-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 25, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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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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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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