You don’t have to be Catholic—or Jewish, for that matter—to appreciate Carroll’s story, though it probably helps. A rich,...

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THE CLOISTER

Of faith, doubt, and sorrow: Carroll (Warburg in Rome, 2014, etc.) delivers another religiously charged novel, and a fine one at that.

Former priest Carroll blends his well-aired interests in history, theology, and literary fiction in this deftly told story that partakes richly of all. He opens with a familiar but entirely appropriate episode in church history and, as it happens, one of the world’s great love stories: the doomed affair of Abelard and Heloïse, a story that Carroll complicates with a part that is less well known than Abelard’s mutilation and Heloïse’s cloistering, namely Abelard’s defense of the Jews of Mainz. “Jews be damned,” thunders an inquisitory abbot. “The battle now is for Peter’s eternal salvation.” Fast-forward to New York 800 years later, when a conflicted priest from a working-class parish decides to duck into a place not often visited by most working-class Catholics of Inwood, the Cloisters, its architectural elements “tastefully reassembled to evoke the high romance of Gothic revival that had so quickened the patrician imagination of the Gilded Age.” There, Michael Kavanagh meets Rachel Vedette, an alluring docent who is whip-smart, deep in reflection on the apostate Simone Weil, and harboring a few secrets of her own having to do with the intersection of and conflicts between the Jewish and Christian worlds. As Rachel slowly unveils her story, Michael comes into conflict himself with the inquisitory Catholic hierarchy—and not just over intellectual matters and questions of faith. As he and Rachel recapitulate elements of that foundational Abelard and Heloïse tale, always close to the possibility of tragedy, Carroll brings in a range of issues: the place of excommunicants in a supposedly forgiving church (“In our day,” one sagely remarks, “Abelard’s misfortunes wouldn’t have qualified as a priest’s spiritual reading”), the trauma and terror of priestly sexual abuse, the soul-shattering Holocaust that has so recently ended.

You don’t have to be Catholic—or Jewish, for that matter—to appreciate Carroll’s story, though it probably helps. A rich, literate tale well told.

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-385-54127-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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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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