Sharper (and a lot faster) than The Bonfire of the Vanities, may well be one of the best accounts ever written of an...

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WAXWINGS

British-born Raban (Passage to Juneau, 1999, etc.) sends a poison-pen letter to his adopted homeland in this witty account of America at the turn of the millennium.

The tale is set in Seattle, where expatriate English novelist Tom Janeway pontificates on NPR’s All Things Considered and teaches writing at the University of Washington while his hotshot wife Beth counts returns on the IPO of her Internet realty business, GetaShack.com. The riots that recently marred the 1999 WTO conference have led the mayor to cancel all New Year’s Eve celebrations, but for the most part (Y2K fears notwithstanding) everyone is looking forward to the new century with very little dread. Even Chick Lee, an illegal immigrant from China who nearly died as a stowaway on a container ship, has been able to evade the INS and make a decent living for himself as a day laborer in the boom economy. But there are intimations that the party may be winding down—not least being the arrest of an al-Quaeda terrorist caught trying to cross the border in a car full of explosives. And Tom’s private life becomes a tangle of complications in short order. First, Beth (stung by some flippant remarks Tom made about the dot.com economy on one of his radio spots) leaves him, taking their four-year-old son Finn with her. Then Tom is identified as a suspect in a string of missing-persons’ cases because he happened to be hiking in the woods where one of the missing was last seen. Meanwhile, Chick sets himself up as a contractor and brings a gang of Mexican illegals over to fix Tom’s roof—just as the police investigation is heating up. Is the bubble about to burst? Or is Tom just going through a rough patch? We know, of course, but Tom doesn’t.

Sharper (and a lot faster) than The Bonfire of the Vanities, may well be one of the best accounts ever written of an American era.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-41008-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2003

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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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