Tense, well-imagined stories whose tendencies to unravel mirror the characters they chronicle.



Twenty short stories about people in the muted extremes of ordinary lives.

Jemc’s (The Grip of It, 2017, etc) stories revel in disquiet. Sometimes this uneasiness is the palpable result of external forces, as in “Don’t Let’s,” in which a woman seeking solitude in the aftermath of an assault may or may not be haunted by a boo hag. Sometimes they expand into gleeful expressions of the macabre, as in “Get Back,” an unrepentant litany of gruesome deaths narrated by the succubuslike murderer herself; or in “Strange Loop,” where the ex-con main character, John, “forget[s] the trembling urges he kept in check” through his total immersion in taxidermy. More often, however, the stories nudge up against confrontational situations that they then allow to dissipate. In “Manifest,” Bernadette’s seemingly plot-instigating encounter with a man with “movie-star good looks” in the plastic surgeon’s office is left behind as the story veers toward an exploration of her determined isolation. In the wonderfully eerie “Hunt and Catch,” the multiple perils that accompany Emily’s commute home from work—a stalking dump truck driver; an overly attentive good Samaritan; her own suddenly unreliable perceptions—are left outside her locked door as she attends to the “quiet dark[ness]” of her private life. In “Maulawiyah,” one of the longer and more conventionally structured stories in the collection, Raila is on a mindfulness retreat where her best intentions toward introspection are interrupted by the pitch-perfect Lisa, whose irritating narcissism Jemc chooses to neither elevate into malevolence nor excuse by way of empathetic backstory. Instead Raila and Lisa are allowed to linger in the singular moment of their relationship in a way that resonates for the reader more like a memory of their own discomfort than it does a story aiming toward a purposeful conclusion. Jemc’s insistence on her stories’ rights not to resolve their dilemmas is the thread that binds this book together, though too many similarly disaffected characters make the stories difficult to digest back to back. The result is a collection that will disappoint a reader looking for a tightly controlled narrative arc but delight one willing to learn how these particular stories want to be read.

Tense, well-imagined stories whose tendencies to unravel mirror the characters they chronicle.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-53835-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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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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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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