A novel that finds redemptive possibility where going forward, going backward and staying put seem equally perilous.

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THE PESTHOUSE

A powerful but subtly rendered novel about the choices people make when there seem to be no choices.

The latest from Britain’s Crace (Genesis, 2003, etc.) will likely draw comparison with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, as both concern love’s salvation in a ravaged world on the brink of extinction. Crace sets his plot within an earlier stage of an American apocalypse, a time when most of the assurances of civilization within society have disappeared, even as there remains widespread hope of escape. Whereas pilgrims and pioneers once headed west for a better life, across the ocean to a New World and then across the country in the spirit of Manifest Destiny, the tide of history has now shifted back east. With America having reverted to a lawless, pre-industrial state, its cities and industries gone and its landscape largely a cesspool of environmental poison, rumors float throughout the sparsely populated countryside that ships will carry anyone who dares an arduous journey to a better world across the ocean. Among those attempting the pilgrimage are Jackson Lopez and his younger brother Franklin, both giants compared to most of their countrymen. The brothers find their journey to the coast stalled when Franklin starts limping near the settlement of Ferrytown. While Jackson searches for food, Franklin stumbles upon the titular “Pesthouse,” where one of the community’s daughters has been quarantined with “the flux,” a plague that threatens to kill anyone who comes in contact with it. All this may sound grim, but Crace more than once refers to his story as a “fairy tale,” and the relationship that the beautiful, innocent Margaret develops with the younger, equally innocent Franklin anticipates what must pass in this desolate world for a happy ending. Issues of family (blood or formed), religious faith, fate and the refusal to submit to it enrich an engrossing novel that may be the richest and most ambitious of the renowned author’s career.

A novel that finds redemptive possibility where going forward, going backward and staying put seem equally perilous.

Pub Date: May 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-385-52075-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2007

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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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