Self-consciously elegiac while emotionally distant.

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THE GREAT FAR AWAY

The dissolution of paradise is the theme of this novella about a community of youthful free spirits who mature into more settled conventionality and eventually fall back into the very patterns they were trying to avoid.

In the 1970s, young people dropping out of college or careers find themselves in Ferris, a northern California beach town. Since many are trying to escape their parents’ conventional expectations and their personal histories, they make living in the present moment their goal. Taking undemanding jobs, they spend their free time hanging out, banding together in a loose countercultural tribe. Naturally, romances spring up. Energetic Randy, who works with senior citizens, ends up with Alma, an earth-mother type. After his first girlfriend, Annie, dumps him, college dropout Graham turns to efficient, lively Darla. Both couples, like most of their community, marry and have kids. They start to create real homes, which require earning real money. Into the ’80s, the sense of communality lingers as Ferris gentrifies. Then at a tribe campfire on the beach, unexpected passion ignites between Randy and Darla. Along with physical attraction, the two share ambitions and a sense of entitlement that Alma and Graham lack. The affair goes on for years until their children are in their early teens, when Alma discovers the truth. After their subsequent divorces, Randy marries Darla and enters politics. Alma and Graham fade from view. Ferris becomes another sprawling bedroom suburb. Frank (Boys Keep Being Born, 2001, etc.) uses a narrator slightly removed from events. The reader learns only midway through that Annie is telling the story, piecing it together from letters she received after leaving Ferris. While imagining a past she did not witness, she implies rather than raises interesting questions about the seeds of the tribe’s failure. The individual characters remain sketches—even Graham, whom Annie presumably knew well.

Self-consciously elegiac while emotionally distant.

Pub Date: March 1, 2007

ISBN: 1-57962-148-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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