PHILADELPHIA FIRE

A NOVEL

Wideman's latest novel picks up where the title story in last year's Fever left off—it's a dense and rage-filled meditation on the bombing of a houseful of blacks in West Philadelphia in 1985. The first half of this intense, poetic narrative concerns one man's personal struggle to find a rumored survivor of the conflagration—a boy named Simba Muntu, whose fate somehow seems linked to his own. For the past ten years, Cudjoe has enjoyed self-exile on a Greek island, trying to forget his string of failures as father, husband, friend, and Afro-American. Having sat out the political struggles of the 70's, he's become obsessed with the fire in Philly, and the image of a screaming, naked boy running from the flames. Cudjoe's research includes interviews with a former member of the so-called MOVE cult; a mouthpiece for the mayor, who was one of the handful of blacks at Penn with Cudjoe; and with a bunch of hoopsters courtside in West Philly. Midway through the novel, however, the fictive perscoa breaks down, transforming Cudjoe into a sort of Everyblackman, including the author himself. Wideman's discursive narrative reflects on his effort to stop time with this ostensible fiction, pausing long enough to consider the tragedy of his adolescent son's incarceration for tour. der. There's also the nagging suspicion that, in this mix of fact and fiction, he's just writing "clever, irresponsible, fanciful accounts of what never happened, never will." Which brings him to J.B., the city's source for information on the MOVE household. Now a "funky derelict" in Center City, this crazy, Rasta-fied street-person indulges a paranoid vision of genocide while hustling for quarters until some white kids set him on fire. Plagued by doubt and guilt, Cudjoe never Finds the boy—but at a vigil for the victims he does pledge, "Never again." Ultimately, this is a tale of survival in which the author himself finds redemption in his art. With its dark and cynical humor, this metafiction will disturb as many readers as it dazzles.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1990

ISBN: 061850964X

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1990

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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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