Ponderous comic sections are redeemed by flights of epigrammatic lyricism that twist cynicism into hope.

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THE GAP OF TIME

Shakespeare did a pretty good job with his plays, but Hogarth Press is putting out a series of rewrites by contemporary novelists. This is Winterson’s version of A Winter’s Tale.

Winterson says the play “has been a private text for me for more than 30 years. By that I mean part of the written wor(l)d I can’t live without; without, not in the sense of lack, but in the old sense of living outside of something.” The play does have a thematic resemblance to Winterson’s novels (The Daylight Gate, 2013, etc.) and memoir (Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, 2012), with its autocratic father, hints of incest, passionate love shading into abuse, foundlings, and redemptive innocents. Shakespeare’s telling reads like a fairy tale: a jealous king, convinced his wife is having an affair with his best friend, has his baby daughter set adrift. She washes up on the coast of the friend’s kingdom, Bohemia, where a shepherd finds her. Meanwhile, the Delphic Oracle vindicates the queen, who (supposedly) drops dead, only to reappear years later as a statue who comes to life once the lost princess is allowed to marry the Bohemian prince. Winterson changes the king into a London hedge fund tycoon, the queen into a French pop star, the shepherd into a black musician in New Bohemia, Louisiana, the queen’s loyal scold of a serving woman into a Jewish executive assistant spouting Yiddish proverbs, and so on. It generally works well, but the transformation drains the story of some of its fairy-tale magic: for example, the statue business shows up only as a video game and a metaphor (“Every day she finds another carving, another statue and she imagines what it would be like if they came to life. And who trapped them in stone? She feels trapped in stone”). Winterson’s most interesting addition is to make the king-king-queen love triangle explicitly sexual: here the two men are not just best friends, but boyhood lovers.

Ponderous comic sections are redeemed by flights of epigrammatic lyricism that twist cynicism into hope.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8041-4135-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

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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