Lord of the Flies meets The Trouble with Angels in Phillips's second novel (after Machine Dreams, 1984), a grim evocation of the dark, dank underbelly of a West Virginia Girl Guides camp in 1963. Every human being is abusive or abused, and evil can only be conquered through primitive means at the summer camp, which is divided into Seniors, Juniors, and younger girls. Senior Lenny finds herself sequestered in a private tent with her best friend, Cap, far away from younger sister Alma and Alma's best friend, Delia. This is just as well, since the sisters are immersed in some serious dilemmas, and this hiatus from home offers a chance to work them out. Alma, a typical mother's girl (or, more precisely, that parent's emotional captive), is disturbed over her mother's passionate affair with Delia's father, recently ended when he drove off a bridge and drowned. Lenny, only vaguely aware of the affair, is more worried about Cap, the daughter of a mining-company owner whose mother abandoned her and who'll be shipped off to boarding school in September. Ruminating over their problems, the girls hardly notice pixie-ish Buddy, the camp cook's eight-year-old, who harbors his own terrible secret: His father, Carmody, recently sprung from a penitentiary, is sexually abusing him. Evading Carmody and spying on the girls, Buddy only gradually becomes aware of another presence at Camp Shelter: Parson, Carmody's former cellmate and a brooding evangelist who sees the Devil incarnate in the ex-con and means to personally destroy him. As these troubled characters' nightmares and yearnings come together in a violent climax, Phillips switches, in Machine Dreams manner, from one subjective viewpoint to another. This time, though, the voices sound remarkably alike—wounded, impressionistic, confused by homoerotic and transcendent yearnings—and lose some power in their sameness. Nevertheless, a suspenseful and oddly captivating work. Phillips remains a stimulating and unpredictable author. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 1994

ISBN: 0-395-48890-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1994

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.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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?



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?