A BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER

More sad songs—replay them as they lay—in the shimmering oblivion of empty glasses down in Boca Grande (Central America) where Charlotte, another Maria, comes to stay before she is killed. Guerrilleros are everywhere, bloodshed seems inevitable. Charlotte's story is told by an older woman, a lifetime "student of delusion," now dying of cancer. As she comments, Charlotte dreamed her life and didn't make enough distinctions. Like a revenant, she goes to the airport every day, looking for her daughter Marin who hasn't been seen for months, Marin who hijacked a jet and is wanted by the FBI. She's the daughter of Charlotte's first husband Warren, a professor and something of a bastard (he contributes one of the few sharper lines in this book). He's also dying of cancer and for a while they travel together through the motel land of the South. Sometimes they're joined by Charlotte's second husband, Leonard, an activist lawyer, and later he disposes of Warren's ashes. Charlotte is carrying Leonard's child who will never see life—a hydrocephalic. Another mortal statistic. But then is Charlotte really alive—in a haze of amphetamines, sleeping in the afternoon, lying awake at night afraid of the dark? One of those lost ladies, dim survivors. Maybe she couldn't make any distinctions but Joan Didion knows the right ones—the Peychaud bitters that go with the Tanqueray gin. They add a decorative sophistication to all these fatal conjunctions. But my, what a stacked deck, as glossy and synthetic as those plastic cards which stick in humid weather. Que sera, this has the same frayed, seductive quality as the earlier novel and it will connect again, one to one, one to many.

Pub Date: March 1, 1977

ISBN: 0679754865

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1977

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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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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