NUMBERS IN THE DARK

AND OTHER STORIES

A fascinating, frustrating posthumous collection of short tales (previously unavailable in English) from the great Italian writer (1923-85), assembled and introduced by his widow, Esther Calvino, and vigorously translated by English novelist and Italophile Parks. A series of "Fables and Stories," written between 1943 and 1958, includes such comic dramatizations of intellectual and metaphysical concepts as "Making Do," which ingeniously expresses the difficulties of imposing freedom on a population accustomed to tyranny, and "A General in the Library," in which a military task force investigates the allegation "that books contained opinions hostile to military prestige"—with embarrassing unforeseen results. Here and there, Calvino overexplicitly discloses his stories' morals (it should be remembered that many of this volume's inclusions were left uncompleted at his death). Still, the better pieces won't disappoint Calvino's many admirers. The marvelous title story, for example, reveals to a small boy helping his mother clean office buildings at night the hidden truth about the bogus economic stability of the entire planet. And the unfinished "The Queen's Necklace," a terrific melodrama developed from the fortunes of the story's title object, shimmers with the promise of witty anatomy of the several social levels occupied by its losers and finders. The later "Tales and Dialogues," dating from 1968 to 1984, are comparatively slow-paced and theme-ridden, including pieces written to order for IBM's computer operations department and, of all things, a Japanese distillery. It's make-work stuff, only infrequently showing Calvino in top form. The best selections are "Henry Ford," an unproduced television script in which Calvino simultaneously presents both a stalwart defense of the great industrialist's capitalistic and paternalistic principles and some sly mockery of them, and "Beheading the Heads," a fantasy about periodic executions of elected public officials that offers a classic example of Calvino's ability to transmute concept into hauntingly vivid fiction. A last hurrah from one of the modern masters. Middling Calvino but, for all that, a welcome gift we would not willingly have done without.

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 1995

ISBN: 0-679-44205-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1995

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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