THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS

A strong, absorbing Chilean family chronicle, plushly upholstered—with mystical undercurrents (psychic phenomena) and a measure of leftward political commitment. (The author is a cousin of ex-Pres. Salvador Allende, an ill-fated socialist.) The Truebas are estate-owners of independent wealth, of whom only one—the eventual patriarch, Esteban—fully plays his class role. Headstrong and conservative, Esteban is a piggish youth, mistreating his peons and casually raping his girl servants . . . until he falls under the spell of young Clara DelValle: mute for nine years after witnessing the gruesome autopsy of her equally delicate sister, Clara is capable of telekinesis and soothsaying; she's a pure creature of the upper realms who has somehow dropped into crude daily life. So, with opposites attracting, the marriage of Esteban and Clara is inevitable—as is the succession of Clara-influenced children and grandchildren. Daughter Blanca ignores Class barriers to fall in love with—and bear a child by—the foreman's son, who will later become a famous leftwing troubadour (on the model of Victor Jara). Twin boys Jaime and Nicholas head off in different directions—one growing up to become a committed physician, the other a mystic/entrepreneur. And Alba, the last clairvoyant female of the lineage, will end the novel in a concentration camp of the Pinochet regime. Allende handles the theosophical elements here matter-of-factly: the paranormal powers of the Trueba women have to be taken more or less on faith. (Veteran readers of Latin American fiction have come to expect mysticism as part of the territory.) And the political sweep sometimes seems excessively insistent or obtrusive: even old Esteban recants from his reactionary ways at the end, when they seem to destroy his family. ("Thus the months went by, and it became clear to everyone, even Senator Trueba, that the military had seized power to keep it for themselves and not hand the country over to the politicians of the right who made the coup possible.") But there's a comfortable, appealing professionalism to Allende's narration, slowly turning the years through the Truebas' passions and secrets and fidelities. She doesn't rush; the characters are clear and sharp; there's style here but nothing self-conscious or pretentious. So, even if this saga isn't really much deeper than the Belva Plain variety, it's uncommonly satisfying—with sturdy, old-fashioned storytelling and a fine array of exotic, historical shadings.

Pub Date: May 23, 1985

ISBN: 0553383809

Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1985

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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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