A couple of touching moments toward the end can’t redeem this surprising misstep from one of our most gifted novelists.

READ REVIEW

TEN DAYS IN THE HILLS

Smiley, who won a Pulitzer for transplanting King Lear to 1970s Iowa (A Thousand Acres, 1991), sets her modern-day version of The Decameron in Hollywood. And it’s no prize-winner.

Her characters are not drawn together by a disaster as directly threatening as the Black Death, though the recently launched invasion of Iraq inspires nearly as much dread in one of them. Self-help author Elena can’t help brooding about the war, even as she lies in bed kissing her lover, slightly-past-his-prime film director Max. It’s March 24, 2003, the morning after the Oscars, and Max’s house is filled with guests: insecure Stoney, who inherited the job of Max’s agent from his more dynamic father; belligerently patriotic Charlie, Max’s childhood friend; Delphine, who’s still living in Max’s guest house years after his divorce from her daughter, gorgeous movie star Zoe; Delphine’s best friend Cassie; Max and Zoe’s daughter Isabel; and Elena’s feckless son Simon. In wander Zoe and her new lover Paul, a New Age-y healer, and the stage is set for ten days of storytelling à la Boccaccio. Unsurprisingly, many of the tales involve movies and moviemaking, though Smiley nods to her source material a few times (e.g., a notorious sinner declared a saint after a mendacious deathbed confession). If only her narrative were as lively as the bawdy Decameron: There’s plenty of sex, but most of it is clinical rather than erotic, and the erectile difficulties of middle-aged men don’t make for very arousing reading either. The parade of stories has no evident thematic unity, and the characters are frequently irritating. Even those who agree with Elena’s feelings about Iraq may grow tired of her harping on the subject, and Isabel’s perennially aggrieved stance toward her mother hardly seems justified by Zoe’s mildly diva-esque behavior. A change of venue to a lavish mansion owned by a mysterious Russian who wants Max to direct a remake of Taras Bulba helps not at all.

A couple of touching moments toward the end can’t redeem this surprising misstep from one of our most gifted novelists.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2007

ISBN: 1-4000-4061-2

Page Count: 488

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 10

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more