SMILE PLEASE

AN UNFINISHED AUTOBIOGRAPHY (PENGUIN TWENTIETH-CENTURY CLASSICS)

Unfinished indeed, and uncharacteristically unshaped; these little chapters of memory—some of them just first drafts, most of them dictated in old age—offer several vivid, spare Rhys paragraphs and more than a few arresting moments, but with virtually no cumulative effect. First, bits on growing up in a quasi-colonial world on the West Indian isle of Dominica: superstitious, teasing black nurse Meta ("the terror of my life"), who showed "me a world of fear and distrust, and I am still in that world"; convent school, feeling the hate of black classmates; melancholy mother, distantly doodling father; and, above all, words and books ("Before I could read. . . I imagined that God, this strange thing or person I heard about, was a book"). Then. . . off with an aunt to England, where Rhys went to drama school, became a touring chorus girl, had her first love affair-cumabortion-and-breakdown (Poem: "I didn't know/ I didn't know/ I didn't know"), and learned to loathe landladies everywhere. And finally (with Rhys' notes becoming ever more perfunctory)—marriage, Paris, motherhood (one infant died), divorce, remarriage. Plus: free-associative inner dialogues from a 1947 diary (which would take well to a dramatic reading); a reprinted musing on "My Day" from Vogue; and an intriguing foreword by Rhys' longtime editor Diana Athill. True, Rhys put most of her life into her novels and stories', nonetheless one feels acute disappointment here that a full autobiography was never written. In any case, Rhys' readers will want to dip into these thin, suggestive sketches—for the clues and parallels to the fiction, for the moment when the depressed chorine first started writing (filling three exercise books at 20, then not looking at them for seven years).

Pub Date: May 28, 1980

ISBN: 0140184058

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1980

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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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