THE VERY MODEL OF A MAN

A smug novel that aspires to rip the lid off religious convention and conviction. Jacobson (Roots Schmoots, 1994, etc.) tackles the Hebrew Scriptures in this new effort. Narrated by Cain, the first murderer and the founder of the first city, the life led by Adam and his family is far different than that portrayed by the pious chroniclers of the Bible. Though the group has already been expelled from Eden, creation is far from complete. The Earth still vibrates with the energy of formation, and to even stamp one's foot is to set in motion a chain of reactions that could lead to some bizarre new species. And there is plenty of reason to stamp one's foot. The omnipresent deity is getting on humanity's nerves, and any attempt to discuss the matter leads to divine punishment because God is decidedly thin-skinned. Adam abuses Cain because the boy is the only thing in the world that he's not afraid of. To top things off, the new baby, Abel, is getting all of Eve's attention, leaving Cain feeling deprived. The boy vows that, even though he loves his brother, he will nonetheless kill him. The novel bounces back and forth between this story and Babel, where an aged Cain is telling his tale in a kind of one-man show for the amusement of the cynical citizenry, who crave entertainment and lack both a theology and a sense of humor. Also related are the stories of the Exodus and of Korah, a cousin of Moses and Aaron who led a rebellion against their leadership and authority. Lurking at the edges of it all is the mysterious Sisobk the Scryer, a member of a Cainite cult that has grown up around the fratricide. Condescension and anachronisms mar what comes across as second-rate Joseph Heller or Philip Roth. Jacobson looks into faith and sees only dark corners.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 1994

ISBN: 0-87951-522-8

Page Count: 342

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1994

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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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