There are incidental pleasures here but, overall, a disappointing return.



In his first fiction since the story collection Last Night (2005), the acclaimed veteran author chronicles the life and loves of a Manhattan book editor over a 40-year period. 

Okinawa, 1945. The Americans and Japanese are preparing for the climactic battle of the Pacific. Salter’s sweep is panoramic but his eye, God-like, is also on the sparrow, a 20-year-old officer in the U.S. Navy, Philip Bowman. It’s a stunning opening, displaying a mastery of scale that will not be repeated. Bowman is the protagonist: loyal, conscientious, a virgin (there’s no rush), from a modest home in New Jersey. He’s very close to his schoolteacher mother (father absconded in his infancy). After Harvard, Bowman is hired by the high-principled owner of a small literary publishing house. He meets Vivian at a bar. She’s from Virginia, part of a rich, horsey set. As lovers, they transcend mortality, becoming gods and goddesses. Everyday life is more difficult. Bowman believes the unlettered Vivian, now his bride, is educable; she’s not. At a Christmas house party in Virginia, the young couple is obscured by hard-drinking minor characters with easy morals. The narrative is studded with these striking vignettes; in retrospect, they’re a swirling mass, losing their particularity. In London on a business trip, Bowman meets a married woman, just as rich, and scales new heights of passion with her; their affair will fizzle out, like his marriage to Vivian. Bowman’s work gets less attention. Salter writes with cosmopolitan ease but avoids the nitty-gritty of the business; Bowman floats above all that, while somehow acquiring the respect of his peers. His third great passion is a disaster. An ill-defined American woman with a teenage daughter appears to be his soul mate; then she cheats on him. Four years later, Bowman uses the daughter in a shockingly cruel way; to make matters worse, this thoughtful man fails to examine his conduct. Without his self-knowledge, there is nothing to knit the novel together.

There are incidental pleasures here but, overall, a disappointing return.

Pub Date: April 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-400-04313-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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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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