As luminous and elegiac as it is probing and disquieting—and sublimely steeped in its Catholic milieu.

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BREAD FOR THE BAKER’S CHILD

In this haunting, emotionally turbulent tale from playwright and novelist Caldwell (The Uncle from Rome, 1992, etc.), an imprisoned embezzler and a traumatized nun, brother and sister, reach across a chasm of years and tragedies in order to present a united front at a moment of reckoning.

Sister Rachel receives word that her brother Phillip has been jailed as she tends to her ailing Mother Superior in the donated mansion belonging to her order, soon to be disbanded due to declining numbers. A former elementary school principal, Rachel has recovered somewhat from the fire that killed dozens of her students and their teacher, although the electroshock treatment (which Phillip paid for) that brought her out of disabling grief did so by robbing her of the victims’ names. Phillip learns a key fact of prison life when he is persuaded to feign being the lover of a younger inmate to protect the man from their cellblock’s predatory leaders. Although he is himself gay and landed in jail in the first place because he stole company money to help a co-worker with AIDS when his health insurer dumped him, Phillip stays aloof from his “partner” until a sadistic guard pushes him too far. Now a convicted murderer, he moves from medium security to death row. Rachel, hearing this news, is unwilling to leave her charge to visit him until the old woman dies. Then, finally free of her burden and with her dead students’ names miraculously restored to memory, Rachel comes to see her brother, giving him solace in the form of details from the family tragedy long ago that shaped their lives. She comes back again in disguise to witness Phillip’s execution, and the comfort they derive from being together is enough to allow each to go forward to a separate destiny.

As luminous and elegiac as it is probing and disquieting—and sublimely steeped in its Catholic milieu.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-889330-65-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2001

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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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