A witty and sobering snapshot of recession-era America.

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WE LIVE IN WATER

The debut story collection from Walter proves he’s as skilled at satire and class commentary in the short form as in his novels (Beautiful Ruins, 2012, etc.).

Most of the 13 stories here are set in the present-day Northwest, where the Great Recession has left middle-class family men bereft and brought the destitute into the spotlight. “Anything Helps” is told from the point of view of a homeless man whose effort to acquire a Harry Potter novel emphasizes his undoing as a stable parent. “Statistical Abstract for My Hometown of Spokane, Washington” is a parody of poker-faced government reports, revealing the private frustration of a man living near a battered-women’s shelter. Drug addicts and hard-luck cases abound here, but these stories aren’t melodramatic or even dour. Walter’s prose is straightforward and funny, and like Richard Russo, he knows his protagonists are concerned with their immediate predicaments, not the socioeconomic mechanisms that put them there. “Wheelbarrow Kings,” for instance, follows two meth addicts trying to pawn a projection TV, and the story’s power comes from Walter’s deft tracking of their minute-by-minute, dollar-by-dollar concerns and their clumsy but canny attempts to resolve them. Still, Walter can’t resist a zombie story—the quintessential genre for socioeconomic allegories—and in “Don’t Eat Cat,” he’s written a stellar one. Set in a near future in which a powerful club drug has bred rage-prone, feline-craving addicts, the story deftly blends romance, comic riffs on politically correct culture and dystopian horror. Women are largely absent except as lost objects of affection, but the men are not simply of a type: The small-time scam artist in “Helpless Little Things” bears little resemblance to the convicted white-collar criminal in “The Wolf and the Wild,” though they both reflect Walter’s concerns about capitalism gone bad.

A witty and sobering snapshot of recession-era America.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-192662-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2012

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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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