McCorkle’s masterful microcosm invokes profound sadness, harsh insight and guffaws, often on the same page.

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LIFE AFTER LIFE

Assisted living residents and a hospice worker confront the inevitable with grit and humor.

A potentially clichéd unifying device, the claustrophobic world of Pine Haven Retirement Facility (located next to a cemetery no less), is here put to innovative use. Passing the narrative baton are Pine Haven’s residents and staff, friends and spouses, all confined, willingly or not, to McCorkle’s familiar turf, Fulton, N.C. Joanna, a hospice worker rescued from suicide by a dog, finds fulfillment easing the passage of the dying. Abby, who inhabits the house next to Pine Haven, is an outcast preteen with a social-climbing mother, Kendra, and a feckless, unreliable father, Ben (a magician and Joanna’s childhood friend). Abby, a daily visitor to Pine Haven, bereft after the disappearance of her dog, Dollbaby, finds a mentor in 85-year-old Sadie, a former third-grade teacher. Sadie discovers a kindred spirit in another teacher, Toby, Pine Haven’s youngest retiree, who bemoans the sorry state of children’s literature today.  C.J., a pierced and tattooed single mom who does hair and nails at Pine Haven, has a much older married lover who is also the father of her son, Kurt. Rachel, a widowed Jewish lawyer from Boston, comes to Pine Haven to take up residence near her deceased paramour, Joe, who is buried, along with his wife, in the adjoining cemetery. Stanley, one of Fulton’s most prominent citizens, is sliding into dementia, cajoling, goading and insulting Pine Haven’s female majority, and reveling in bizarre obsessions: WWF stars and ’60s-era lounge lizard LPs. But could his apparent Alzheimer's be a bid for independence instead of dependency? Seemingly unrelated and insignificant clues sowed throughout raise other questions as these lives coalesce. For example, is Dollbaby really missing? Who’s leaving notes in a cemetery vase? Are both Kendra and C.J. placing their hopes in the same married man? Any residual predictability is dispelled by the jaw-dropping ending.

McCorkle’s masterful microcosm invokes profound sadness, harsh insight and guffaws, often on the same page.

Pub Date: March 26, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-56512-255-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013

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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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