As part of Barth’s challenging postmodernist corpus, the short stories offer smaller doses of the odd pleasures and strains...

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COLLECTED STORIES

A monumental assemblage of this antic author’s short fiction, most of it steeped in the literary history and postmodernist contortions of “that peculiarly American species, the writer in the university.”

Each of the four collections gathered here has stories closely related by characters, themes, and stylistic high jinks, accommodating the preference Barth (Every Third Thought, 2011, etc.) notes in his introduction for the long form of the novel. They also reflect the writer’s constant parsing and playing with narrative conventions in metafictional outings that began with the Borges-influenced, multilayered confections of his first collection, Lost in the Funhouse (1968). “Menelaiad,” for tortuous instance, retells some of the Troy legend with mind-boggling embedding of multiple narrators like matryoshka dolls. On With the Story (1996) dials down the meta moments while including a Barth avatar who alludes to Funhouse. The story titled “ ‘Waves,’ by Amien Richard,” is fairly straightforward as two travel writers seek a good snorkeling site while painfully avoiding a shared tragedy. The Book of Ten Nights and a Night (2004) nods to all Barth’s favorite tale-tellers—Homer, Scheherazade, and Boccaccio—while a writer named Graybard and his Muse discuss “narrative” in sections linking the book’s actual narratives—including four pages that look like musical notations for a song containing the one word “help.” That the 11 nights are those following the terrorist attacks on 9/11 shows Barth venturing out of the ivory ziggurat and contemplating a “nation in shock.” More conventional are the stories of a Maryland gated community in 2008’s The Development. They have a comic take on community and an intimate sense of aging—Barth was almost 80 at that time. Still, he can’t resist his bookish japes, as with a writing student who presents one project in text written all over her young flesh.

As part of Barth’s challenging postmodernist corpus, the short stories offer smaller doses of the odd pleasures and strains of a restless intelligence and its relentless gaming of the literary system.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62897-095-1

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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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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