A modern saga of rocketships, ice floes and dreams of the Caribbean, and great fun to read.

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BUZZ ALDRIN, WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU IN ALL THE CONFUSION?

Or, the long-awaited Great Faroese Novel: a splendid confusion about life, love and intrigues in the land of the midnight sun.

Thirty-something Norwegian writer/musician/all-around pop icon Harstad has been making quite a splash—or, perhaps, splashdown—with his debut novel of 2005, which was published in 11 countries before making its way to these shores and is now a feature film in the making. The story is perhaps uneasily fitted to the silver screen, for it’s big and sprawling, and most of what happens does so in the interiors of its characters. The protagonist is a lovelorn gardener named Mattias, a young man of simple pleasures and absolutely no ambition: “Here in the garden, and I wanted to be nowhere else in the world” apart—perhaps, from hanging out with his friend Jørn. Mattias finds backing for his contentment in his station in the fate of Buzz Aldrin, the astronaut, who, though in command of the Apollo mission, had all his thunder stolen by Neil Armstrong, whom history remembers as the first man on the Moon, even though Aldrin was “a more experienced pilot in just about every way.” Given the choice, Jørn, naturally enough, would want to be Armstrong, and so the twain diverges—and presto, Mattias, coming into adulthood at just about the time Olof Palme is shot dead in Sweden and the age of Scandinavian innocence dissolves, finds himself in the remote Faeroe Islands. For a man who wants nothing more than for nothing to change, the new venue would seem to be ideal. But, of course, the world intrudes even on the Far North, and Mattias finds himself caught up in weird cabals and improbable plots about which he keeps suitably mum (“Didn’t mention any catastrophes, bloodied hands or envelopes that appeared from nowhere filled with large amounts of money"). The austere landscape and people of the Faeroes become players in Harstad’s poetic narrative, half-dramatic and half-comic, which takes on memorable turns with every page as Mattias realizes just how not in control of his destiny he really is.

A modern saga of rocketships, ice floes and dreams of the Caribbean, and great fun to read.

Pub Date: June 7, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-60980-135-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Seven Stories

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011

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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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