Compulsively readable, in a horrifying sort of way. What will Braff do next now that he’s got that off his chest?

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THE UNTHINKABLE THOUGHTS OF JACOB GREEN

Scarifyingly funny debut limns a suburban boy's struggle to cope with the Jewish Father from Hell.

The ghastly housewarming party he throws when they move to Piedmont, New Jersey, in 1977 tells us almost everything we need to know about Abe Green in the nine opening pages. He’s overbearing, he’s needy, and he flashes his family's accomplishments as if they were credentials. (Jacob “reads Hebrew so beautifully it'll make you cry,” Dara “swims like a fish . . . always top three,” etc.) As Jacob narrates the story from his 10th to 15th years, we see the grim effects of Abe's compulsive personality. He’s an insane perfectionist; after Jacob’s bar mitzvah, the boy has to write 20 thank-yous a night, “each note will be individually checked for proper spelling, grammar, syntax, and word choice,” and when the poor kid falls short, Abe throws his usual screaming tantrum. He never actually hits anyone, but the verbal and psychological abuse are truly scary. Wife Claire finally has enough and moves out in 1981—of course, Abe demands joint custody. The author realistically shows Claire as a loving mother who nonetheless fails her children by being too occupied by her new marriage and career to fully protect them from Abe. Eldest son Asher simply defies Dad, but Jacob can’t so quickly reject a man whose love he feels even as it drives him to desperation. In the most brutally funny scene here, Abe “apologizes” for the thank-you card tantrum while driving Jacob to the hospital (he’s broken his wrist smashing a wall), then begins chattering about plans for an Annie Hall party while his white-lipped son counts the blocks to the ER. Though Jacob learns near story’s end he that can't depend on Asher to rescue him, there’s no real resolution in this primal scream ripped from adolescence: it’s just painfully honest and surprisingly compassionate.

Compulsively readable, in a horrifying sort of way. What will Braff do next now that he’s got that off his chest?

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2004

ISBN: 1-56512-420-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2004

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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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