Casey writes old-fashioned novels in the best sense—character-driven, thick with dialogue, nuanced and multilayered as they...

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COMPASS ROSE

Casey (The Half-Life of Happiness, 1998, etc.) revisits Spartina (1989) territory—coastal Rhode Island—to see what his characters have been up to.

Spartina won the National Book Award, and the author turns the spotlight on Elsie Buttrick, mother of infant Rose. Elsie helps take care of old Miss Perry, her former Latin teacher, whose dialogue is sprinkled with poetic and classical allusions. In addition, Elsie is a natural resources officer, greatly concerned with proper stewardship of the marshland and wildlife around South County. Most significant is that she’s an unwed mother—Rose’s father is Dick Pierce, owner of the boat Spartina. Dick’s wife May is understandably unsettled and quietly infuriated by her husband’s infidelity, though eventually she comes to love Rose as dearly as Charlie and Tom, her sons by Dick. Elsie’s sister Sally is married to Jack Aldrich, a slick lawyer and mover and shaker in the community. Over the years he’s slowly been acquiring land for development and has decided that he wants the tract where Dick and May live. Rose eventually becomes a scholarship student at a local school and begins to assert herself through her musical gifts, but she also becomes a fairly unruly adolescent of great concern to her mother. In one tense episode May hears that the Spartina has wrecked, and at first she has no news about her husband. Complicating the issue: On the boat, Jack and Sally’s son is a crewman with little practical experience. (His father had little to teach him because he has always been more comfortable as a poseur, parading about in his nautical blazer at the local country club.) The story moves along at a leisurely pace that allows us to see the complexity and subtlety with which these characters interact. While nothing in the plot is ever quite resolved, the characters ultimately become more self-aware.

Casey writes old-fashioned novels in the best sense—character-driven, thick with dialogue, nuanced and multilayered as they reveal relationships.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-375-41025-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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