Authentic language and vivid prose wonderfully capture the essence of small-town America and its colorful inhabitants.

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BROKEN ANGELS

In her debut novel, opinion columnist Kurth avoids the hard-boiled approach, bringing the mystical back into mystery.

For Abby Babcock, the blue-collar hills of western New York are anything but romantic. Living in a trailer outside the small town of Welton, aging before her years, she sacrifices her days placating an abusive, alcoholic husband. Resigned to life’s emptiness and disconnected from her two teenage sons, Abby’s only grace in life is her tiny daughter, Layla, the product of a short-lived love affair with Rick, a charming country loafer with a cabin in the woods. When Abby decides to stay with her cruel husband for her sons’ sake rather than follow her heart, Rick hitchhikes to North Carolina, unaware of his secret offspring. Years pass, and to escape the worsening loneliness, Abby takes walks along nearby Conewango Creek, where she daydreams unhindered while gathering cowslips to accompany the typical evening meal of venison and potatoes heaped with insults. On returning home one day from her stroll in the woods, she discovers that Layla has disappeared. A desperate search soon becomes a full-blown rescue mission with the entire town involved, but to no avail. The girl is gone, and an already broken Abby is now devastated. Centered around the Welton Hotel (the local tavern) and Shelly’s Cafe (a country diner), the town’s rumor mill goes berserk. Was she kidnapped? Murdered by that no-good husband of hers? With the mystery of Layla unsolved, suddenly Abby disappears too, with many believing that she ran off to find Rick. Through the growing web of small-town gossip the local color unfolds. From Tess, a balding teen who resembles a “Q-tip,” to Opal Messenheimer, a New York City transplant who spends her days assembling an angel-motif art installation, each character unknowingly holds clues as to the fates of Layla and Abby. With well-placed detail, Kurth illustrates that in life, as in fiction, coincidences are merely latent revelations.

Authentic language and vivid prose wonderfully capture the essence of small-town America and its colorful inhabitants.

Pub Date: March 17, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-595-45773-1

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2011

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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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