A brief yet dense contemplative sketch weighted with spiritual touches.



A fisherman confronts his life, loves, and mortality in this elliptical, somber novella.

The veteran Norwegian novelist Fosse (Aliss at the Fire, 2010, etc.) has a knack for compressing an entire lifetime into a few key moments in a few dozen pages. This book, echoing its title’s evocation of birth and death, opens with the birth of Johannes, an event described in run-on language that captures his father’s anxiety and mother’s exhaustion (“What a good strong boy Johannes yes and to stay in this stay here where nothing else Johannes will be a fisherman like his father”). The prose becomes less abstract in a longer second section that captures Johannes, who indeed became a fisherman, in his old age. But the mood is still unsettled in ways that suggest a ghost story: A widower, he steps out one morning contemplating his long life, seven children, and friendship with Peter, with whom he takes a portentous trip out into a nearby bay. Whether the instability has to do with Johannes' weakened state or something more metaphysical is a question Fosse leaves largely open to the reader; he weaves in mentions of superstitions and questions of God’s existence not so much to deliver direct comments on them but to suggest the ways our thinking flows uncertainly around them. Johannes’ recollections of a young girlfriend, [69] his late wife, [75] and caretaker daughter, Signe, are tender but unromantic—Fosse’s poetic prose implies that the things we love are just out of our grasps. (One paragraph is a riff on whether Signe actually sees him while approaching him.) [89] While Fosse’s writing is easy to admire—Johannes is beautifully depicted—it’s also easy to anticipate the grim place the story is moving toward.

A brief yet dense contemplative sketch weighted with spiritual touches.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62897-108-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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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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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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