Tries too hard to do too much but is likable anyway.

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STILL LIFE LAS VEGAS

A boy with a tragic past comes of age in Las Vegas.

"Asians can't figure me out, and it drives them nuts. I'm like Asian, but stretched tall. Long body, small features. Curly dark hair. Like one of those long-necked aliens with a wig." Self-esteem is not Walter Stahl's long suit, but at 17, he hasn't had much to make him feel good about himself. His mother, Emily, took off when he was 5 in the wake of a tragedy that left his father, already damaged by loss, ruined beyond repair. Imagining that Emily has fled to Las Vegas, father and son follow her there—but the years pass without any sign. These days, Walter is scanning for Vietnamese-looking women among the visitors who tour the Viva Las Vegas! museum, where he's a guide. In parallel with his tale is woven an earlier narrative, one that tracks Emily from the time she backed out of the driveway in her blue Volvo and hit the road. Parts of the story are told in graphic novel form, which works quite well, and there are also reproductions of pages from Walter's sketchbook. His favorite subjects are two human statues at the Venice Venice hotel, Apollo and Diana, who turn out to be a brother and sister from Greece. "I've spent hours studying his body....the deep cleft of his hairless chest, the line that begins at his hip and swoops down to touch upon his fig leaf and curve back up to the other hip, that shadow that runs along the side of his thigh from his knee to the perfect roundness of his ass...." Clearly, Walter's on the verge of learning something new about himself. Sie's debut novel is a bit weighed down by all the darkness he's loaded in: there are too many deaths and betrayals, too many back stories and digressions, too many Greek myths; also, it's disappointing when a major plotline turns out to be a fantasy.

Tries too hard to do too much but is likable anyway.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-05566-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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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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