Literary life in privileged Ancient Rome: melodramatic, mysterious, believable, compelling.



The great Roman poet, author of Ars Amatoria and the Metamorphoses, is the subject of Alison's fascinating debut: an imagined explanation of what it might have been that caused the emperor Augustus to exile Ovid from Rome for life.

As the story opens, Ovid (b. 43 b.c.) is taking a trip to the Black Sea, purportedly to remove himself from the emperor's view for a time—just out of caution—but also to catch his poetic breath pending the publication of the Metamorphoses, on which the ambitious Ovid pins his most fervent hopes for lasting fame. And such a lucky choice of getaway it is—for what finer creature should he meet along the forested Black Sea shores than Xenia, the sylph-like girl of 20, of immense beauty and mystery, who was found by villagers as an unparented infant. When she swims, she seems to become the water itself, reminding Ovid of his own characters and creations in the Metamorphosis—and leading him to feel stirrings of his next work. She must, of course, return with him to Rome, a prospect that thrills Xenia herself, though Ovid fully knows its dangers: as he learns, she's widely respected for her depth and prowess in the practice of witchcraft, and witchcraft is something that Augustus, in keeping with other of his regulatings of mystery and morality, has strictly forbidden. To Rome, nevertheless, the couple goes, and in the city acclaim does indeed await Ovid for his Metamorphosis, enough of it, in fact, to bring him the patronage of none less estimable than the unscrupulous and driven Julia, the grievously embittered granddaughter of Augustus himself. And so it is that more harm than good may befall Ovid as he progresses with his new work, Medea, modeled secretly on the extraordinary (and dangerous) Xenia, under the patronage of Julia, whose own true motivations won't be known until it's much too late for the ambitious, brilliant, and doomed poet.

Literary life in privileged Ancient Rome: melodramatic, mysterious, believable, compelling.

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-23179-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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