LOS GUSANOS

With that Spanish title (translation: The Worms), and his liberal use of Spanish dialogue, Sayles is paying homage to the Cuban milieu of his first novel since Union Dues: a long, broken journey, starting in Miami, then weaving back through Batista's Cuba, Castro's Cuba, and Guatemala (training-ground for the Bay of Pigs Brigade). Miami, 1981. A Cuban-American kid, working for rapprochement with Havana, is shot dead on the street. A 30-ish woman called Marta, a devout Catholic, is rejected by an anti-Castro terrorist group. Does this sound like a political suspenser from Graham Greene or Robert Stone? No such luck: the kid's murder is quickly forgotten, and Marta is eclipsed for long stretches. She's the daughter of a wealthy rancher in pre-Castro Cuba (now dying in a Miami nursing-home) and the younger sister of Blas, disillusioned leftist turned drug-dealer, and Ambrosio, a starry-eyed poet killed at the Bay of Pigs. The closest we get to a storyline is Marta's fanatical determination to mark the 20th anniversary of Ambrosio's death by executing his original mission (blowing up a power station). Her need for guns and explosives leads her to the sinister El Halcon, once a torturer for Batista, now tracking oddballs like Marta, under orders from CIA agent Walt (another piece of slime). Unbeknownst to Marta, it was El Halcon (then too under CIA orders) who killed her brother; those corrupted by power will always feed on the idealistic, regardless of their ``revolutionary'' or ``freedom-lover'' labels. There's an implicit nihilism here, but rather than fan it into a unifying vision, Sayles gets hung up on particular horrors (Walt's perfidies, Castro's prisons); he neglects the forest for the trees, and after these binges has no energy left for the finish-a predictably tragic outcome for Marta's mission. So all we have is the makings of a big book-and the distressing waste of a prodigious talent.

Pub Date: June 5, 1991

ISBN: 0-06-016653-3

Page Count: -

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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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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