A shambolic sort-of crime novel that flirts with absurdity but never finds its footing.

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GRAND MENTEUR

A young Mauritian immigrant attempts to dissect her father’s criminal past.

This debut novel by Ah-Sen, a Toronto writer who comes from a family of Mauritian winemakers, may tell an interesting tale, but the actual storytelling is so messy and unfocused that the style is distracting. We hear the story of Sergent Mayacou, a member of a secretive street gang called the Sous, through the eyes of his daughter between the years 1965 and 1980. Sergent is known by his cronies as “The Grand Menteur,” a designation which translates to “big liar,” while his comrades carry colorful nicknames like the Black Derwish, Ti Pourri, and Bowling Green. When a policeman friend of Sergent’s gives the daughter a codex laying out the mysterious workings of the Sous Gang, it gives her some insight into the nature of her painfully secretive father and her own tendencies toward crime and violence. Unfortunately, that revelation doesn’t do squat for the reader, since it’s never really revealed just what criminal activities this flamboyant band of misfits gets up to. The daughter ultimately ends up working at St. Alban’s, a homeless shelter in Toronto, where she seeks shelter for herself after years of grifting to get by. This tale is meant to shine a light on the unique plight of a specific group of immigrants, but there’s nothing compelling in its telling. “Yet wherefore the enduring survival of our derelict people?” the narrator bemoans late in the tale. “To what grace the raw power of these schemers? Where else but the many children, siblings, acquaintances, comrades willing to abet the happiness of their devoteds, kith and kin who comprised the enablers, sympathizers and even enemies. All points of discourse intersecting into a lightning array of action and inertia.” The story told here is culturally interesting with its melting pot of Mauritian mythology, British class influences, and the awkwardness of being a stranger in a strange land. It's too bad the writing that propels it is as twisty and hard to unravel as a Gordian knot.

A shambolic sort-of crime novel that flirts with absurdity but never finds its footing.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-77166-130-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Bookthug

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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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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