SHUT UP AND DEAL

Thinly fictionalized memoir of a grueling six-year spree as a professional poker player, told in a motormouthed vernacular so mesmerizing—for better or worse—that the pages seem to reek of cigarette smoke, stale clothes, and cheap booze. May’s first effort is less novel than plotless collection of gritty gambling anecdotes posing as street wisdom. Mickey, the narrator, likes to talk tough and act cool behind his $100 sunglasses and triumphantly tacky thrift-shop wardrobe, but he can’t escape the notion that the marathon games he sits in on (they can last for days with no one eating or sleeping), the hapless moments when he plays perfectly but still loses, and the colorful, unsavory characters he competes against are all just grinding him down. Mickey doesn’t tell us how to win or even how to cheat, grumbles when he’s asked to make loans to people he doesn’t trust, and has nothing to show for his efforts beyond a few thousand dollars that don’t stay in his pocket for long. Claiming that poker is a blend of luck and skill, and that —luck is philosophy, and there are some people who are never going to fake it,” he repeatedly contradicts these and other lofty assertions, finally concluding that “People always want to know what’s going on and what’s going on is people are going broke.” Though he visits many poker rooms across the US and Europe, and frequently wins enough money to live for months in comfort, Mickey eschews the good life, smokes too much marijuana, has no romantic attachments, and hangs out with untrustworthy, colorfully nicknamed buddies who’stupid and downright malevolent as they often are—get a buzz from the game but never seem to have any fun. A wildly uneven, slang-filled road trip that glories in every pothole in its path. Amateur cardsharps and casino denizens will find themselves, writ small, in these pages.

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-48940-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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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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