Half a century ago, Ralph Ellison was excited by the prodigious talent on display in this collection, and it can still...

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HUE AND CRY

Short stories reach across decades of racial upheaval and social transformation to reaffirm what remains human and vulnerable in all of us.

McPherson (1943-2016) was the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize in fiction, which he received for his 1977 collection of short stories, Elbow Room. Nine years earlier, the Savannah-born McPherson, who held degrees from both Harvard Law School and the University of Iowa (whose storied Writers Workshop he later directed), published this, his first and only other short-fiction collection. Upon reading this new edition, it somehow isn’t enough to say that the stories “hold up well.” Their blend of grittiness and sophistication, compassion and common sense, measured observation and melancholy humor can still profoundly move and illuminate. “Gold Coast”—which was later included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike—manages to compress whole contradictions of personality, ethnicity, and class into the seemingly discursive but poignant reminiscences of a young black janitor’s apprenticeship to his building’s embittered and elderly Irish superintendent. With similar incisiveness and sensitivity, the title novella dissects the vagaries of interracial romance. McPherson’s keen ear is perhaps most evident in “A Solo Song: For Doc,” which uses the irascible first-person voice of a 60-something Pullman waiter to recount the life of a similarly testy co-worker whose supreme competence and fierce dedication couldn’t protect him from bigotry or arbitrary dismissal. “Of Cabbages and Kings” evokes some of the darkly comedic paranoia of the 1960s while “An Act of Prostitution” puts the edgier comedy of the legal system up front. The collection remains an exemplar of humane, tough-minded grace while anticipating much of the trenchant, boundary-breaching fiction by young African-American writers emerging so far this century.

Half a century ago, Ralph Ellison was excited by the prodigious talent on display in this collection, and it can still galvanize contemporary readers.

Pub Date: July 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-290973-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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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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