A rueful paean to a city, mired in polemic purgatory.

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DRIFT

Aptly titled debut novel limns a part-time professor’s dark night of the soul in sunny San Diego.

Thirty-five-year-old Joe Blake ambles around “America’s Finest City” and its environs as though in a Dante-esque phantasmagoria. An adjunct instructor at three low-level colleges, Joe collects wan essays from his listless students. His Beatrice is Theresa Sanchez, a bookseller with whom he falls in love after hearing her talk about her enthusiasm for the poet Pablo Neruda. As he goes about his lackluster days, the point of view passes, relay-style, to various people Joe encounters: a sailor in a Tijuana bar; a Mexican prostitute; a homeless man who was his student. A self-styled boulevardier, Joe observes the local juxtaposition of aggressive gentrification and seedy counterculture remnants. His detailed scan of the passing scenery, complete with a play-by-play soundtrack of jazz cuts and alarmist radio news, often grows tedious. Enticing when the principals pall are sketches of backdrop characters, from satisfied Italian-American housewife Rosie and aging former bouncer Chuck to intellectual Rex, who has a fateful session on a health-club treadmill, and crank-head Gary and his frat-boy dealer. Italicized entr’actes and arcane illustrations interrupt the action to educate readers about San Diego’s relentless boomerism, racism and union-busting. Joe and Theresa head for a failed desert-resort development bordering the festering Salton Sea, a dead lake created by a misguided attempt to divert the Colorado River for irrigation purposes. This bleak landscape is the moral high ground that Joe and his author seek. Inevitably, carnage intrudes with a head-on collision between a truckload of slave laborers and a family van. But this is California: Joe might just survive his midlife madness after all.

A rueful paean to a city, mired in polemic purgatory.

Pub Date: March 30, 2007

ISBN: 0-8061-3807-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Univ. of Oklahoma

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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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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