Hamilton is exquisitely observant and unfailingly generous to the characters she creates: every life has weight and dignity.

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WHEN MADELINE WAS YOUNG

The narrator of Jane Hamilton's fifth novel (Disobedience, 2000, etc.) is Timothy “Mac” Maciver, a brilliant, scientifically minded fellow growing up in a big Midwestern family, whom we follow from his boyhood in the 1950s to his middle age in the present day.

Mac gradually becomes aware that his beautiful blonde adult “sister” is in fact his father's first wife, Madeline, impaired after a head injury, and lovingly cared for by his father's second wife, Mac's mother, Julia. Mac's dad is a curator at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History; Julia—faintly reminiscent of Eleanor Roosevelt—is homely, principled and awkward, a promoter of social good. One summer her household includes her own brilliant children: Mac, busily dissecting a chimpanzee brought home by his father; his sister Lu, a dedicated cellist; two black teenagers Julia “rescued” from the ghetto, ill-at-ease and bored stiff in the suburbs; and Madeline. Stirred into this mix is Mac's slightly older and much admired cousin Buddy—a catalyst, hero and beloved black sheep. Physically and socially adept in a way that Mac envies, Buddy immediately puts the family's African-American houseguests at ease. And he not only breaks the nose of a neighbor kid who cruelly takes advantage of Madeline and tries to make a sexual show of her, he conceals the reason for the fight to protect her, and takes the blame. The narrative does not progress rapidly or linearly—it radiates in all directions like a spider's web. The web of connection is perhaps strongest at the most painful moments.

Hamilton is exquisitely observant and unfailingly generous to the characters she creates: every life has weight and dignity.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-51671-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2006

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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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