Whether the book comes off as mad satire or just sickening juvenilia, Barrow suggests a writer who might in time have joined...

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ON THE RUN WITH MARY

This crude, nightmarish picaresque describes the gross adventures of a teenage boy and a talking dachshund named Mary as they travel in and around London.

Missing sugar buns at an English boarding school set off a search of lockers that turns inexplicably bloody. The school hairdresser cuts off a student’s ear. The headmaster vomits in class because of his gin habit. And 300 “pairs of soiled boys’ underwear” are discovered under a teacher’s bed. This is Page 1 of Barrow’s uncommon debut. He crowds numerous incidents into a skimpy plot that is set off by the headmaster’s sadistic punishment of the student narrator and the youth’s flight from the school. Along the way, he encounters the dachshund and countless incidents of violence and vomit—with the latter peaking during five consecutive pages of Technicolor belches. Twice, and for 25 minutes each time, the narrator is covered with feces from a bull that has been dosed with an emetic. Sexual activity is rampant. Harrod’s has on staff a “Flatulence Contraption Buyer.” There are at least three castrations, with one by Mary, whose storied past includes drug addiction and whose search for her mother ends tragically—as did the author’s short life. Born in 1947 and showing signs of talent in art (his Ralph Steadman–like characters accompany the text) and writing, he was killed at age 22, along with his fiancee, in a car crash two weeks before their wedding. The book’s manuscript was found in a drawer a day later. The primitive, understated style amid such horrors has a nice comic effect, and it might be argued that Barrow only exaggerates the usual catalog of man’s inhumanity. But the torrent of bodily fluids and feces, the mayhem and the wallowing therein will not be to every reader’s taste.

Whether the book comes off as mad satire or just sickening juvenilia, Barrow suggests a writer who might in time have joined the ranks of William Burroughs, William Kotzwinkle, or John Kennedy Toole.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-939931-24-5

Page Count: 133

Publisher: New Vessel Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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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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