Lurid but humane tales of faith and its carnal discontents.

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SEX AMONG THE SAINTS

Mormon spirits are willing but the flesh is weak, wayward and kinky in these edgy stories.

The bans on alcohol, coffee and swearing are hard enough, but it’s the Latter Day Saints’ strait-laced sexual strictures that have Townsend’s Mormon characters tied up in knots. Their supreme commandment is to enter a sanctified marriage that will last through eternity and perhaps make them rulers of their own planet, but any pleasure taken outside or before wedlock can get them “dis-fellowshipped” from their close-knit, nosy congregations. From this crucible of inflamed but repressed desire flows a riot of furtive evasion and exuberant transgression. A woman who has sexual fantasies about Jesus—it’s ok, she reasons, because she intends to marry Him in the afterlife—panics when her bishop insists that she find a mortal husband. A studly missionary gets kidnapped and finds himself enjoying a situation that would be profoundly sinful if he weren’t tied up and forced into it. A drag queen hopes that her volunteer work will atone for her shoplifting sprees. A sexually frustrated wife decides that the only way she can save her marriage is by prostituting herself. In the most shocking story, a church pillar with a secret panty fetish takes drastic, biblical measures against his son’s pathologies. Townsend writes with a deadpan wit and a supple, realistic prose that’s full of psychological empathy, but he doesn’t let his characters off the hook. He places them in stark predicaments and observes their legalistic writhing as they try to square their hypocrisies and perversions with their religious beliefs; those who find redemption—a man who accepts his long lost son’s homosexuality, a married white woman who gives birth to her black lover’s child—do so by softening Church dogmas with sexual humanism. Townsend’s depiction of Mormon life is unbalanced and sometimes over-the-top, but still affectionate and generous; he takes his protagonists’ moral struggles seriously and invests them with real emotional resonance.

Lurid but humane tales of faith and its carnal discontents.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2010

ISBN: 978-1609100681

Page Count: 318

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 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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