Well-researched but talky forays into intellectual issues raised by art, music, and science, all wrapped around a half-baked...

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QUATTROCENTO

An art curator falls in love with a Renaissance portrait as newcomer McKean, a violin maker, straddles two genres: the newly popular art-history novel and good old-fashioned time-travel SF.

Matt O’Brien, an assistant curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, discovers a small, unsigned portrait of a beautiful young woman in the museum’s storage bins and is immediately enchanted. Meanwhile, the museum installs an authentic Italian studiolo, a small study surrounded by panels painted in elaborate trompe l’oeil during the quattrocento (15th-century) period of high Renaissance art. The funds were provided by a mysterious European physicist named Klein, and as Matt restores his painting of the woman he names Anna, the two men begin a friendship based on conversations about the role of physics in art and music. At the same time, Matt has a series of waking dreams set in the distant past that feel strangely real, while his conscious life becomes a disorienting blur of lost moments and confused memories. Then he has an out-of-body experience inside the studiolo and wakes up in Renaissance Italy, where he falls passionately in love with the real Anna, herself a painter and wife of the dying local duke. (Unfortunately for the reader, Matt’s relationship with the duke’s librarian, Rodrigo, is far livelier.) Again there is much talk of art and philosophy before Matt finds himself time-traveling back to the present and waking up in a hospital bed. His restored painting of Anna, now a certified Leonardo, hangs in the museum, but his friends and colleagues have no memory of the studiolo or a benefactor named Klein. On the hunt for his missing friend in contemporary Prague, Matt instead discovers Klein’s secret and the answer to his own time-traveling dilemma before returning to the quattrocento world and to Anna.

Well-researched but talky forays into intellectual issues raised by art, music, and science, all wrapped around a half-baked plot and silly characters.

Pub Date: July 2, 2002

ISBN: 0-385-50319-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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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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