An ethereal meditation on love, the duty of a caretaker, and mortality.

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CENSUS

A terminally ill widower and his son set off on a final journey to see the country.

After a jarring but welcome stylistic break in his last novel (How to Set a Fire and Why, 2016), Ball returns to his spare philosophical style, employed here to portray a man with Down syndrome in tribute to the author’s late brother. The narrator is this man’s father, a widowed doctor who has recently learned that he has a heart condition that will be fatal. In lieu of simply succumbing to his illness, the doctor accepts a job as a census taker for a mysterious government entity that has him interviewing and subsequently tattooing its country’s citizens, spread across regions designated from A to Z. It’s a peculiar mission with equally outlandish instructions like “A census taker must above all attempt, even long for, blankness,” and “Never expect help from anyone. There is no help for you.” Along the way, the two men encounter strangers of all sorts, some fearful, some odd, and some with deep compassion for the census taker and his charge. About halfway to Z, the census taker abdicates his responsibility and creates his own mission: “I, who have in some ways always misbehaved, even as a surgeon, would misbehave going forward, I decided. I would go into each house and home, each town and village, and try to discover what was worthy of note.” Written in stark, unembellished prose, the story is permeated by an undeniable sense of loss. We learn about the doctor’s late wife, an avant-garde performing artist, and we learn about the man himself, even as he prepares to leave this life. But the boy is largely absent. As Ball notes in an opening statement, it’s a “hollow” story with a lost boy at the center of it, the tale wrapped around him like a protective cloak.

An ethereal meditation on love, the duty of a caretaker, and mortality.

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-267613-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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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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