Tortured beasts are tended by soul-destroyed keepers in an unstinting portrait of all that’s wrong with modern food...

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ANIMALIA

Carnivores beware. Human and animal misery are evoked in unsparing detail in a dark saga of ruinous husbandry practices.

This first novel to appear in English from a prizewinning French author is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. Brilliantly, lyrically descriptive whether evoking the natural world or a decaying farmstead, the book traces the terrible evolution of rural ways of life into cruelty and abuse via the history of one unhappy family. Opening in 1898, it evokes peasant existence in Gascony from the perspective of a harshly devout mother, a loving but ill father, and their daughter, Éléonore. Co-existing alongside their livestock, the trio endures a miserable cycle of poverty and endless labor. Marcel, a cousin, arrives to help with the work until World War I intervenes; Marcel survives but at the price of half his face and one eye. In spite of this, Éléonore loves him, marries him, and bears his son, Henri. Swooping forward to 1981, the smallholding has enlarged into a pig production unit, a place of pain and torment. The family has grown via Henri’s two sons to include a manic depressive mother, a mute grandson, alcoholism, sickness, and despair of multiple kinds. Meanwhile, outside, a herd of pigs is raised in grotesque, appalling conditions. Del Amo spares no details—indeed overloads the brutish accumulation—in this portrait of filth, cruelty, and moral decline. The people suffer, but the animals suffer more, whether in war- or peacetime. Overmedicated, inbred, and turned into industrial units, the pigs produce contaminated waste that fertilizes the fields that grow the grain they eat, creating a virtuous/vicious cycle of excrement and meat. The piggery has become a cradle of barbarism, and it isn’t going to end well.

Tortured beasts are tended by soul-destroyed keepers in an unstinting portrait of all that’s wrong with modern food production.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4757-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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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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