Irreverent humor doesn't compensate for insubstantial characters, nor does some mildly endearing self-deprecation redeem...

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UNPLUGGING PHILCO

A bumbling antihero struggles for a little peace and quiet in the dystopian near future imagined by Knipfel (Noogie’s Time to Shine, 2007, etc.).

Following “the Horribleness,” a mysterious attack in Tupelo, Miss., which has been used by the government as an excuse to wage a pointless war, citizens live under constant surveillance and the fear of being branded as potential terrorists. Corporatization has invaded everything, including (thanks to implants) the skulls of all good citizens. Personal communication devices called “VidLogs” are “more mandatory than pants.” A run-in with a member of the Stroller Brigade, an organization of sadistic mothers who bully childless citizens with razorblade-fitted perambulators, lands Wally on the wrong side of the law. He’s had enough: his loveless marriage, the constant commercials blaring inside his head, the nosy neighbors bent on ratting out nonconformists to the authorities—they all combine to drive Wally to attempt the unthinkable. He removes the implanted chip designed to make him a good citizen, rendering himself for all practical purposes invisible. Through a series of strange coincidences, Wally meets an entrancing hippie and a wisecracking dissident cowboy; they introduce him to a band of subterranean Luddites with designs on taking the world back to simpler, pretechnological, preauthoritarian times. But are the revolutionaries what they claim? Is their work that of true patriots or the criminally insane? Like Wally, readers are constantly befuddled by a surreal landscape, a cartoonish cast and a catalog of corny acronyms: SUCKIE (Single Universe Citizen Identification) cards, “SMEG/MA” (Salacious Materials Enforcement Group Metropolitan Area), etc. Thinly veiled allegories for 9/11, the Patriot Act and other contemporary phenomena bludgeon rather than enlighten. Wally and his merry band of “Unpluggers” drift in an amalgamation of themes borrowed from Orwell, Vonnegut and other masters of dystopian literature toward the inevitably cynical conclusion.

Irreverent humor doesn't compensate for insubstantial characters, nor does some mildly endearing self-deprecation redeem this satire's aimlessness and lack of engagement.

Pub Date: April 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9284-6

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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