A delight from start to finish, and a note-perfect evocation of the gray 1950s.

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THE MIGHTY WALZER

An entertaining Jewish picaresque novel, following on Jacobson’s Man Booker Prize–winning The Finkler Question (2010).

This roman à clef is a Rothian romp, a Goodbye, Columbus across the water in Manchester, where we find young Oliver Walzer desperately trying to do what young men try to do, namely satisfy their baser urges while grappling with whoever the hell they are. Oliver’s not sure of any of this, and it doesn’t help that he falls under the tutelage of a ping-pong patzer, and maybe even goniff, with the resonant name of Sheeny Waxman, who has a gift for confusing things. The association is natural, and if Oliver doesn’t quite experience the “slow awakening of genius” that the novel grandly announces in its very first paragraph, then he enjoys a lively sentimental education all the same. Oliver has a family tradition to uphold: His schlimazel of a pop was an ascended master of the yo-yo, after all, and now Oliver has to carve his own reputation into the gates of Birmingham with his own chosen instrument (“cometh the hour, cometh the toy”); Oliver also strives to rise above his origins, since, as he puts it, “all we’d been doing since the Middle Ages was growing beetroot and running away from Cossacks.” Yet, hormone-driven as he is, Oliver has other aspirations, most of them things that inspire reverential circumlocution (“Mr Waxman drove her to Miles Platting, a considerable distance from her home, requested that she allow him to perform an indecent act upon her, and when she again refused he unceremoniously ordered her to get out of his car”). Will Oliver attain his several goals? That’s the question that awaits the young man who thinks of himself as a mediocre being, a Kafkaesque bug, as, worst of all, “So-So Walzer.” Jacobson is a sympathetic narrator, but not above poking fun at his characters and poking holes in their pretenses—and clearly having fun as he does so.

A delight from start to finish, and a note-perfect evocation of the gray 1950s.

Pub Date: March 29, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-60819-685-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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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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