A gothically tempestuous, not undelightful examination of the anxiety of influence.

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THE TAKING

Self-consciously melodramatic tale of a 17-year-old girl’s fateful summer of 1938 in a doomed Greenwich, Massachusetts.

Emily Dickinson is Sarianna Chase Renway’s favorite author, and, to emulate and honor Dickinson, the serious-minded Sarianna quits Mount Holyoke (where Dickinson also studied) after one year to become tutor to a minister’s son in the Swift River Valley. After one more year, the valley will be flooded by government decree to provide water for Boston, and the town of Greenwich will be gone. Hence, few residents are left to fill Reverend Treat’s church and provide companionship to his lovely young wife Una and 11-year-old son. Using allusions to such New England literary forebears as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mary Rowlandson, Landis (Longing, 2000, etc.), evidently steeped in the Puritan tradition, gradually introduces a bizarre, incestuous ménage involving the Treats and Una’s childhood family, the Vears: Una grew up with handsome half-brother Ethan Vear and might have been pregnant with his child when her father/uncle Simeon sent her to live with the handsome God-wrestling Reverend Treat 11 years ago. Into this mystical muddle steps clear-eyed virgin Sarianna, who is charmed by Una’s stories of Ethan—or his spirit—and resolves to find him even though he’s reputed dead. In fact, when he does materialize, a kind of feral boy living in the woods with gruff elderly father Simeon, it’s unclear whether he really exists or just functions as a metaphorical foil for the mad graveyard gleanings of the living. With its archaic syntax and stilted vocabulary (“within the chaste clasp of my childhood bedroom”), the story hinges on the “taking” of Sarianna’s innocence: Will it be done by the irresistible reverend, for whom Sarianna doubles for a younger Una? The ethereal Ethan? Even young Jimmy Treat, emerging into manhood? In any case, Sarianna isn’t as interested in the act as in the act of reading: literary and biblical personages have a more solid presence here than Landis’s own.

A gothically tempestuous, not undelightful examination of the anxiety of influence.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-345-45006-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2003

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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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