An artfully written fable has plenty of messaging but its storytelling lacks luster.

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PIGS

Some orphans and a father figure live on a distant island, shoveling the world’s trash to ravenous pigs that will eat anything.

This expressive but bizarre novel by Stoberock (City of Ghosts, 2003) is a deeply strange take on our quickly developing environmental challenges that falls somewhere between The Lord of the Flies, The Maze Runner, and every other fantasy novel that pits the children of our planet against a dying world. In this case, once more, the kids are isolated on a remote island populated by adults who are pretty much a-holes. The kids have to feed an unending supply of the world’s garbage, delivered by ship, to voracious pigs that can literally eat anything, including things like glass and toasters. There are only four of them: Luisa, the clutz who's already lost one of her fingers to a hungry pig; Mimi, the oldest but maybe not wisest; Andrew, whose narcoleptic fits are a big problem; and Natasha, who is just a prelingual toddler when the book opens. Things kick off when the kids open a barrel of trash to find another kid, Eddie, inside, and they quickly banish him. Why don’t the kids just escape? The water is deadly in some mysterious way, although they do find a remote cave to hide in from time to time. As a metaphor for climate change and humanity’s deepening arc toward self-destruction, the novel works fine, but Stoberock’s lyrical prose and lifeless characters rob the story of any juice. It doesn’t help that the grown-ups are grotesque, not only barbecuing and devouring one of the invaluable pigs, but also threatening to kill and eat the kids, encouraged by the banished exile, Eddie. If there’s a saving grace, it’s the one noble grown-up, Otis, robbed of his wife and son by his unplanned exile to the island, whose willingness to sacrifice himself is a model of literary nobility.

An artfully written fable has plenty of messaging but its storytelling lacks luster.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59709-044-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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