A WIDOW FOR ONE YEAR

Irving’s latest LBM (Loose Baggy Monster, that is), which portrays with seriocomic gusto the literary life and its impact on both writers and their families, is simultaneously one of his most intriguing books and one of his most self-indulgent and flaccid. Though it’s primarily the story of successful novelist Ruth Cole, the lengthy foreground, set in Sagaponack, Long Island, in 1958, is dominated by Ruth’s parents, Ted and Marion, both minor novelists (though Ted later becomes rich and famous as a writer and illustrator of children’s stories), both mourning the deaths of their two teenaged sons in an automobile accident. Ted copes by seducing younger (often married) women; Marion, by bearing a daughter (Ruth) whom she’ll later abandon following her affair with 16-year-old Eddie O’Hare, a prep-school student hired by Ted as a “writer’s assistant.” Later sections, set in 1990 and 1995, dwell melodramatically on Ruth’s painstaking progress toward romantic happiness (including a European book tour that involves her with a prostitutes’-rights organization) and the lingering effects of their adolescent affair on Eddie, who’s now a middle-aged novelist and “perpetual visiting writer-in-residence” with a lifelong passion for older women. A grieving widow, offended by one of Ruth’s novels, pronounces a curse on her. Eddie accidentally learns that the fugitive Marion is living in Canada, writing detective novels (by now the bemused reader may have anticipated the question later put to Ruth: “Is everyone you know a writer?”). The story moves sluggishly, and overindulges both Irving’s (Trying to Save Piggy Sneed, 1996, etc.) love of intricate Victorian plots and his literary likes and dislikes. On the other hand, his characters are vividly imagined, insistent presences who get under your skin and stay with you. A thoughtful, if diffuse, examination of how writers make art of their lives and loves without otherwise benefitting from the process. The borderline-tearful ending is a bit much, but at least there aren’t any bears.

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-375-50137-1

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 10

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more