A sharp-tongued, sweet-natured masterpiece of Jewish family life.

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THE MIDDLESTEINS

From Attenberg (The Melting Season, 2010, etc.), the deeply satisfying story of a Chicago family coming apart at the seams and weaving together at the same time.

Former lawyer Edie Middlestein has always been a large presence, brilliant as a lawyer, loving as a mother, shrewish as a wife. Since early childhood, food has been her private if not secret passion. The novel is organized according to Edie’s fluctuations in weight, and the descriptions of her sensual joy in the gluttony that may be killing her are often mouthwatering. Sixty-ish Edie is obese and ravaged by diabetes. When her pharmacist husband, Richard, leaves her shortly before she’s scheduled for an operation, Edie’s children are outraged. Thirty-one-year-old teacher Robin is a fearful near alcoholic who has avoided intimacy since a disastrous experience in high school. Ironically, her new self-proclaimed hatred of her father opens her to the possibility of a relationship with her geeky neighbor Daniel, a gentle soul with a hidden but strong spine, not unlike Robin’s older brother Benny. Benny is happily married to Rachelle, a woman of fierce protectiveness who initially denies Richard all access to his grandchildren to punish him for his desertion. Is Richard a heartless, selfish man, or is he correct that Edie left him years before he left her? A little of both. All these characters feel more than one emotion at a time, and all are more than they first seem. Edie is an overbearing matriarch in her family, but a lovable saint to the owner of her favorite Chinese restaurant. Richard is a schlemiel, except that he is capable of real love. While the novel focuses intensely on each member of the family, it also offers a panoramic, more broadly humorous, verging-on-caricature view of the Midwestern Jewish suburbia in which the Middlesteins are immersed, from the shopping centers to the synagogues. But as the Middlesteins and their friends move back and forth in time, their lives take on increasing depth individually and together.

A sharp-tongued, sweet-natured masterpiece of Jewish family life.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4555-0721-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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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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