A long, fuzzy journey just to learn we can’t go home again.

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THE BOATMAKER

An unnamed man leaves the small island where he was born to explore the strange kingdoms beyond his home.                   

It has to be said that a novel about growing up, faith, redemption and religion is something of a diversion for Benditt, the former editor of MIT’s Technology Review and one of the better-known science writers in the U.S. The story is a poetic but aimless metaphor for…something, although the book’s spare, fable-esque writing often threatens to surpass the messages it tries to deliver. Our nameless hero, known only by the book’s title, is first shown on Small Island, an obscure corner of a larger Christian kingdom where, a thousand years ago, a peasant boy converted the king to Christianity. It’s only when the boatmaker leaves the island that his personal journey begins. On a larger island, he struggles with drink, has a strangely combative affair with an innkeeper and falls in with a pair of malcontents named Kravenik and Weiss, better known as Crow and White. After his so-called friends assault and rob him, he moves on to the mainland a changed man. There, he falls under the spell of Father Robert, a charismatic and faintly cultlike priest who believes the boatmaker will be the redeemer for “The New Christ.” Father Robert is also determined to undermine the House of Lippsted, a Jewish dynasty whose wealth has earned them the power to undermine the king. Running away once more, the boatmaker becomes a carpenter for the House of Lippsted, where he falls under the spell of one of the family’s beautiful daughters. Benditt has a unique voice and obviously has something to say about religion, history and manhood, but the novel’s abstraction and circularity could well make coming along on the boatmaker’s journey feel more like a trek than an arc.

A long, fuzzy journey just to learn we can’t go home again.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-935639-98-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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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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