Like so much of Kawakami’s work, an elegant mystery that questions reality in the most ordinary of situations.

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PARADE

Enigmatic novella in which the world of Japanese mythology intrudes into the mortal realm.

Readers familiar with Kawakami (The Ten Loves of Nishino, 2019, etc.) will know her alter ego–ish character Tsukiko Omachi and the one-time high school teacher known only as Sensei, who figure in such recent works as Strange Weather in Tokyo. In an afterword, Kawakami writes, elusively, that “the world that exists behind a story is never fully known, not even to the author.” Two worlds, in fact, exist here. The first is Tsukiko’s quiet life, which, on this summer day, the air loud with cicadas, is punctuated by a visit from Sensei, who, as ever, is critical: She doesn’t know how to make somen noodles, her habit of touching her earlobe is off-putting, she’s old enough that the imprint of the tatami mat on her skin doesn’t go quickly away after a nap. “That’s a rude thing to say,” says Tsukiko of Sensei’s last jibe, though she complies with his demand to tell him a story. The one she obliges him with is odd: As a child, she says, she was awakened one night by the clamor of two—well, somethings fighting, not animal, not human, but tengu, “the spirit creatures I had seen in folktale books.” Others see them, too, but ignore them, even as Tsukiko’s mother recounts that in her day it was a fox that followed her around, while some of Tsukiko’s classmates have companion ghosts, badgers, and the like. The most understanding of those classmates, a young girl named Yuko, seems sympathetic enough—until, as Tsukiko notes, the tengu touch her, and “when they did so, the spot on Yuko’s body where they had touched her would sparkle. Like a nighttime parade.” Is Yuko real or another visitor from the spirit world? At once melancholic and joyful, the story satisfies Sensei, the cicadas begin to chirp again, and life goes on, if suffused in strangeness.

Like so much of Kawakami’s work, an elegant mystery that questions reality in the most ordinary of situations.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59376-580-4

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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