Prototypical Updike: made new here and there by his ever-enviable novelistic skills, but marred by its more than passing...

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VILLAGES

A graceful panoramic depiction of individuals and their communities, which simultaneously echoes Updike’s 1968 novel, Couples, and may be as autobiographical a fiction as any he’s written.

The protagonist and viewpoint character is 70-year-old retiree Owen Mackenzie, who is stimulated by recurring, troubling dreams to recall experiences in the three “villages” where he’s spent most of his life: Willow, Pennsylvania, where Owen, sheltered and indulged by cautious parents, develops “his charmed, only-child sense of life”; Middle Falls, Connecticut, where Owen and his first wife Phyllis produce their four children while he builds the innovative computer software business that will make him rich; and Haskells Crossing in eastern Massachusetts (read: Updike’s longtime hometown of Ipswich), where he resides with second wife Julia, a former clergyman’s spouse acquired during the last of Owen’s numerous courses of adultery. The best parts of Villages are its early chapters, packed with delicately detailed observations of landscapes, interiors, and emotional states and felicitous sentences. By the time Owen undertakes his “practical scientific education” at M.I.T. and becomes involved with brainy, beautiful fellow student Phyllis Goodhue, Updike—ever the assiduous master of information pertaining to his characters’ livelihoods—has provided a really rather impressive crash course in the history and programming of computers. But then Owen begins his serial dalliances with (mostly married) neighbors and acquaintances, and the novel segues into the vigorous clinical sexual specificity that Updike (a) does better than almost anybody else now writing and (b) overdoes to an extent that blemishes even his best fiction. The story recovers somewhat toward its end, as Owen’s approaching death bestows a needed gravitas upon his compulsive egotism (about which, to be fair, Updike is unsparingly frank).

Prototypical Updike: made new here and there by his ever-enviable novelistic skills, but marred by its more than passing resemblance to books that he’s written too many times already.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2004

ISBN: 1-4000-4290-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2004

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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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