A short novel that still manages to feel like a waste of time.

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ATLANTIC HOTEL

An unnamed man has surreal experiences as he journeys across Brazil.

Although author Noll (Quiet Creature on the Corner, 2016, etc.) has long been a phenomenon in his native Brazil, he has still remained largely unknown in the United States. This slim novel, narrated by a nameless man as he travels through Brazil, shows why that might not be such a bad thing. The narrator is a cipher throughout, telling strange, contradictory stories about himself to everybody he meets. He tells people alternately that he's an alcoholic on his way to a treatment center, a priest, a B actor specializing in soap operas, and other such lies, all for no apparent reason. As he goes on his journey, death and sex seem to follow his every move. He encounters corpses throughout and frequently trysts with strange women he's only just met. These lurid encounters are rendered dispassionately, presented as nothing more than quotidian events in the protagonist's life. These passages, both in their too-cool-for-school alienation and needless edginess, reek of affectation and cheapen the novel by making its cryptic nature feel like just a contrived stab at the avant-garde. Indeed, while Noll and his translator Morris' prose frequently has a seductive, noirish quality, the novel is so fatally hamstrung by its inherent lack of substance or point that any stylistic grace only reinforces how fundamentally empty an exercise it is. None of the surreal events in the unnamed narrator's life ever have a significance beyond titillation and transgression, and in its gratuitously sexual and violent episodes, the book often feels more like a 14-year-old's diary than the work of an eminent novelist.

A short novel that still manages to feel like a waste of time.

Pub Date: May 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-931883-60-3

Page Count: 104

Publisher: Two Lines Press

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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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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