Could have been loopy in less deft hands, but Ciment (The Tattoo Artist, 2005, etc.) keeps things lively and edgy throughout.

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HEROIC MEASURES

Three disparate narrative elements—a possible terrorist attack, the real-estate market in New York City, a sick dachshund—somehow cohere into a blackly comic yet tenderly touching novel.

Alex and Ruth Cohen have been living in the same co-op apartment for 45 years. Alex is an artist; his current project is turning his wife’s FBI file into a manuscript. Ruth, who has put her political past to rest, is a retired teacher with a fondness for Anton Chekhov. Right now, the elderly couple has plenty to worry about. Highest on the list is their beloved dog Dorothy, whose back legs seem to be paralyzed after a seizure. Also, they can no longer handle the five flights of steps to their apartment, so they’re looking to sell it and find something more convenient. Perhaps, with the million dollars they’ve been led to believe the place is worth, they could even move to the Jersey shore or to that island off the coast of North Carolina that Ruth has read about. There are, however, numerous flies in this particular ointment, for something odd is happening in the Midtown Tunnel. A gas truck has jackknifed, and police are quickly evacuating everyone; rumor spreads that it could be a terrorist attack. Alex and Ruth try to follow the news reports that come in fast and furious. Abdul Pamir, the truck driver, carjacks a taxi, then abandons it and takes hostages in a Bed Bath & Beyond. If terrorists are that close, Alex and Ruth’s real-estate agent tells them, the apartment could be worth far less than they had hoped. Then there’s the state of Dorothy’s health…

Could have been loopy in less deft hands, but Ciment (The Tattoo Artist, 2005, etc.) keeps things lively and edgy throughout.

Pub Date: June 30, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-375-42522-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2009

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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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