Elegant and melancholy yet surprisingly optimistic, warmed by full-bodied characterizations and expert delineation of...

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THE WHITE ROSE

A modern-day Rosenkavalier, as atmospherically situated among Manhattan’s affluent Jewish elite as the Strauss opera was among Vienna’s aristocrats.

In the sexy opening scene, 48-year-old Marian Kahn is making love with 26-year-old Oliver Stern while late-afternoon traffic blares on Park Avenue below her apartment. She’s a married history professor at Columbia who’s written a surprise bestseller about an 18th-century American adventuress; he runs an ultra-chic Village flower shop called The White Rose and is the son of her oldest friend. Their midday idyll turns to farce with the unannounced arrival of Marian’s stuffy cousin, Barton Ochstein, come to boast of his engagement to Sophie Klein, a Columbia grad student (doing her thesis on an anti-Nazi group called the White Rose) whose super-rich but definitely-not-Our-Crowd father Mort is eager to find a gentlemanly caretaker for his daughter and his billions. Funny, Marian had always assumed Barton was gay, and he certainly takes a lascivious interest in Oliver, who’s scrambled into some of Marian’s clothes and a wig to introduce himself as her assistant Olivia. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that “Olivia” will play a role in scuttling Barton’s unsuitable match with intellectual, unworldly Sophie, but this is the only clumsy note in an otherwise deftly plotted narrative. Koreltiz (The Sabbathday River, 1999, etc.) provides glimpses of her characters’ pasts to explain their motivations, she shows people changing in ways that are sometimes painful but usually necessary and always plausible, she makes Oliver’s and Sophie’s youthful confusions as compelling as Marian’s middle-aged ruefulness. The supporting cast is equally well-imagined (though Marian’s husband should have been more than an offstage presence), and the author provides knowledgeable background material on everything from the New York publishing scene to the Rockefeller drug laws. In crisp, unsentimental prose, she gently traces the inevitable disintegration of Marian’s affair with Oliver and shows both of them making new commitments, which will come as a relief to readers who have grown to really care about these people and hope for their happiness.

Elegant and melancholy yet surprisingly optimistic, warmed by full-bodied characterizations and expert delineation of complex emotions.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-4013-5231-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2004

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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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