A strong debut that remains steadily written, even as it drifts away from its best material.



Rubin’s debut novel tells an imaginative story of American emptiness.

Encouraged by his mother, Giovanni Bernini has nursed his gift of imitation since childhood, practicing on friends and teachers, always performing flawless facsimiles of those around him. Finally pushed into the spotlight by a talent agent named Max, Giovanni becomes, pardon the cliché, the toast of the town, and one imagines an old-timey montage from a 1940s movie: newspaper headlines twirling, champagne corks popping, and hammy impresarios introducing the great impressionist upon stage after stage. This old-fashioned, show-biz quality is one of the more appealing aspects of Rubin’s novel—there’s even a love interest named Lucy Starlight (a singer, of course) and a villainous theater owner named Bernard Apache. But Giovanni is the center, and he’s a complicated figure: a man who, in his attempt to perfectly mimic the characteristics of others, ultimately realizes he has no characteristics of his own. Rubin excels at detailing the specifics of impersonation, as when Giovanni breaks down what different gestures mean—“nodding while breathing out your nose (to express amused agreement), raising your eyebrows while suppressing a smile (mild scandal), or shaking your head while breathing in through the mouth (sympathy)”—or when he discusses “the thread,” the aspect of personality that everybody has and on which a great impressionist pulls to begin unraveling the subject (“the thread” is a masterful governing metaphor). As Giovanni drifts from New York into Hollywood, then into politics, then into therapy, the novel starts to feel diffuse, as though Rubin wants to do too much. It doesn't help that, as an occasional screenwriter, Rubin tends to sketch his scenes sparsely—mostly dialogue and gesture—as though awaiting a director to fill in the rest.

A strong debut that remains steadily written, even as it drifts away from its best material.

Pub Date: March 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-01676-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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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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