Less than fully achieved, but a book of considerable strength.

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WHAT THE THUNDER SAID

The complex relationship of two sisters who grow up, then apart, on an Oklahoma farm during the 1930s is grittily etched in the Virginian author’s second novel (after The River Beyond the World, 1996).

It’s essentially two distinct books that fit together without much success. In the first, partially crippled Maxine “Mackie” Spoon endures her disability and her quick-tempered sister Etta’s eccentric misbehavior, until it becomes clear that Etta will steal from her the affections of Audie Kipp, the orphaned Indian youth hired to help their widowed father, McHenry, keep his farm operating despite years’ worth of damaging dust storms. Secrets split the family apart: the accident that caused their mother’s death, the identity of the father of Etta’s baby, the guilt borne by McHenry for the death of his brother many years earlier and the hidden truth about Mackie’s paternity. The narrative then concentrates on Mackie’s odyssey away from her kin, her disappointed love for a taciturn married man and the independence with which she learns to shield herself from the claims of numerous relationships. “Book Two” subsequently employs several (only gradually identified) observers and narrators whose encounters with the primary characters disclose what has happened to the Spoon girls and the stoical Audie in the decades following their separation. Peery writes beautifully about the intricate demands of farm life and the arduous process of adapting to a harsh and unpredictable climate, and her characters have the imposing solidity of figures painstakingly carved from unyielding substance. At its best, the novel recalls Josephine Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize–winner Now in November, the bleakly lyrical fiction of Elizabeth Madox Roberts and, in passing, Wuthering Heights. But the puzzle presented by its patchwork second half diffuses tension built up earlier, and even readers absorbed in its particulars may have trouble staying its gnarled course.

Less than fully achieved, but a book of considerable strength.

Pub Date: March 6, 2007

ISBN: 0-312-25263-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2007

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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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