THE LAST VOYAGE OF SOMEBODY THE SAILOR

Barth is back with another big (544-page), bawdy, and "postmodernist" book, replete with the usual metafictional conceits, in which the "New Journalist" hero, a contemporary Scheherazade of sorts, likes to swap tales with the legendary Sinbad the Sailor, while trying to get his bearings, both metaphorically and literally. Simon Behler (pen name Baylor), born and raised in Maryland's Tidewater country, had made a name for himself as a journalist by writing a series of books about his own travels, experiences, and family; but now 50, he's out of fashion, his marriage is breaking up, and he's not sure what to do next. On assignment in Spain he links up with Julia Moore, his first girlfriend's kid-sister. The two, both expert sailors, decide to trace the voyages of Sinbad the Sailor; but off the coast of Sri Lanka (the legendary Serendib), a storm drowns Julia, and Baylor finds himself in Sinbad's household in medieval Baghdad. Each night after Sinbad has regaled his guests with a story, Baylor tells in similar installments the story of his life and how he came to be there with only his modern wristwatch to reassure him about his past. In love with Sinbad's daughter, the lovely Yasmin, who reminds him of the lost Julia, Baylor is also anxious to get back to the 20th-century. He marries Yasmin, and the couple set sail for Sri Lanka, but, echoing that other voyage, Yasmin drowns in a storm, and Baylor finds himself back on the shore of Maryland. Filled with an abundance of colorful characters and settings—but less a novel than a series of insubstantial set-pieces, liberally padded with explicit sexual scenes, in which poor Baylor is always at sea, one way or the other. A thin story in a very fat book.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 1990

ISBN: 061813171X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

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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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