Meritocracy is not at all without merit. But it feels like a story we’ve heard many times before.

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MERITOCRACY

A LOVE STORY

An earnest debut finds trouble in the demi-paradise inhabited by the 1960s’ best and brightest.

Veteran TV (Hill Street Blues) and film scriptwriter Lewis sets his story in 1966 and in the memory of his narrator Louie, one of six recent Yale grads who share a weekend on a Maine island to send off one of their number: golden-boy senator’s son Harry Nolan, who has just joined the army and may soon be en route to Viet Nam. Harry and Sascha, his beautiful recent bride, compose the “force field” in which Louie (who loves them both), affable Tennessean Cord, brittle sardonic Teddy, and blank-slate (Adam) Bloch adoringly exist. Louie’s reconstruction of their weekend (nearly 40 years later, in the approximate present) sets up a pattern of reminiscence, meditation, and analysis (including overabundant political commentary) that isolates a central question: Did Harry decide to serve his country out of noble motives, or as a stepping-stone toward a later political career? The question is thrown into bold relief by the weekend’s events: an unhappy argument between Sascha and Harry, a trip to a rural fair followed by all-night drinking at a roadhouse, an automobile accident, and a serious injury that changes everything forever. The dénouement—where Louie’s ties to the world of his youth and the people he loved are gradually severed—has a wistful tone that wraps things up movingly (if a trifle too neatly) and (perhaps needlessly) reemphasizes the irony of high hopes dashed and a generation’s promise lost before its youth could fully mature.

Meritocracy is not at all without merit. But it feels like a story we’ve heard many times before.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2004

ISBN: 1-59051-142-5

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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