It follows two other fictional treatments of real people: Ravel (2007) and Running (2009), about the Czech runner Zátopek....

READ REVIEW

LIGHTNING

The latest, very short novel from the French Echenoz profiles the eccentric genius of electrical engineering, Nikola Tesla. 

It follows two other fictional treatments of real people: Ravel (2007) and Running (2009), about the Czech runner Zátopek. Tesla (1856-1943) is called Gregor here. His early days as a Serb in southeastern Europe are dealt with briskly. He’s “precociously unpleasant," and from the start his projects are large-scale, even grandiose. He’s 28 when he leaves for America and is hired by Edison as a troubleshooter; he invents a generator for alternating current which Edison embraces though refuses to pay him for. Soon after, the majority shareholders of his own company stiff him after his invention of an arc lamp. Clearly, Gregor is no businessman. He goes to work for Westinghouse, Edison’s rival, at Western Union; his lectures on alternating current draw huge audiences and make him a celebrity. Yet he remains intensely private and has extraordinary quirks. He is obsessed by the number three. He is beset by phobias: germs, hair, jewelry. Women adore him, but he stays celibate, reserving his affection for pigeons. Yes, dirty old pigeons—only with them is there real communication. This is a wholly unsentimental portrait of a freaky inventor. Our sympathy is not required; all Echenoz requires is our attention, which he secures through his lapidary prose, buffed to a high gloss in this excellent translation. The omniscient narrator shows Olympian detachment coupled with wry humor. Gregor’s ups and downs continue. He lives large at the Waldorf, but his latest patron J.P. Morgan turns him loose after Marconi appropriates his patent for radio, the result of a dirty trick perpetrated by Gregor’s nemesis, a nobody called Napier. This key development is merely outlined, a disappointment for readers hungry for dramatic flourishes. At the end of his long life, all Gregor has are his pigeons, and even they will turn on him.

Pub Date: June 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59558-649-0

Page Count: 144

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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

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