Playful fiction with a corresponding (and paradoxical) seriousness of intent.

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THE FOLLY

A slim, symbolic novel with allegorical overtones by a noted South African novelist and short story writer.

Originally published in 1993, the book follows the architectural adventures of the aptly named Otto Nieuwenhuizen, who is indeed building a new house. One day he simply shows up on a vacant lot next to a house owned by Mr. and Mrs. Malgas. At first, this traditional, even stodgy couple thinks Nieuwenhuizen is either a nightmare or a mirage, but soon they’re peeking out curiously at him as he pitches his tent and begins to plan his house. Malgas, aka Mr., eventually overcomes his distaste and becomes intrigued by Nieuwenhuizen’s manner and larger-than-life personality. (Vladislavic emphasizes the newcomer’s size and that he casts “a gigantic shadow over [the Malgases’] house.”) Malgas is a retailer of hardware, a profession that the house-builder feels might be of use even though he tends to use castoff and improvised tools. While Mrs. Malgas, aka Mrs., never loses her antipathy for Nieuwenhuizen, her husband starts to lend a hand and soon expresses a desire to be of use. And while the house looms large in everyone’s imagination, its importance is more as a dream or vision than as a reality—and it takes Malgas considerable time to buy into this idea. When he does, he’s overwhelmed by the beauty of possibility, while his wife remains mired in the mundane and literal. It’s clear the author wants us to focus on the ideal rather than the real, and his stylistic playfulness pulls us into his vision, much as Malgas is pulled into Nieuwenhuizen’s. 

Playful fiction with a corresponding (and paradoxical) seriousness of intent.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-914671-37-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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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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