Strongly plotted, crowded with full-bodied characters and as thoughtful about “this national hysteria over college...

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ADMISSION

Gripping portrait of a woman in crisis from the extremely gifted Korelitz (The White Rose, 2005, etc.).

Portia Nathan should be happy. She’s proud of her work as an admissions officer at formerly country-clubbish Princeton, now a bastion of multiethnic excellence thanks to the dedication of Portia and her colleagues to finding the very brightest of all races and classes. OK, her relationship with her aging New Lefty mother Susannah is distant, and she’s hardly more intimate with longtime live-in boyfriend Mark, chair of Princeton’s English department. Maybe that’s why, during a recruiting trip in New England, Portia falls into bed with John, who teaches at the ultra-alternative Quest School. Portia is startled but impressed by Quest’s think-outside-the-box students, especially Jeremiah, a brilliant autodidact she thinks belongs at Princeton. But when John tells Portia (who didn’t recognize him) that he knew her as an undergraduate at Dartmouth, it’s the first in a series of unsettling events that unravel her carefully controlled life. Susannah has taken in a pregnant teenager; Mark confesses that he’s knocked up a fellow professor and moves out. Poring over hundreds of application folders, faced with her annual task of “winnowing the stupendously remarkable from a vast field of the only normally remarkable,” Portia slowly comes unglued. By now, we know that she got pregnant in college, and whatever choice she made about it has shadowed her ever since. It seems for a while that the narrative might lead us toward a tearful mother-and-child reunion, but Korelitz demands far more from her lovable heroine. Portia comes to understand that her wounds are partly self-inflicted, and she demonstrates her commitment to change with a brave, rule-breaking act she knows will be punished. It is, but we believe Portia will pick up the pieces because we’ve seen that she’s ready to take some of the care she’s always lavished on anxious college applicants and devote it to herself.

Strongly plotted, crowded with full-bodied characters and as thoughtful about “this national hysteria over college admissions” as it is about the protagonist’s complex personality—a fine, moving example of traditional realistic fiction.

Pub Date: April 13, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-54070-4

Page Count: 450

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2009

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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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