Without qualification: take the road to Esmeralda.

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THE ROAD TO ESMERALDA

Second-novelist Nicholson (The Tribes of Palos Verdes, 1997) blends the trenchant politics of Barbara Kingsolver with the emotional insight of Sue Miller.

Nick Sperry, a charming journalist with alcoholic tendencies, decides to take a long vacation and write the novel he’s been playing with for ten years. He and his girlfriend Sarah head to Mexico, where they try out some largish resort towns, but find themselves sickened by the tourist scene. Mexicans and Europeans alike are fluent in anti-American criticism (the story’s set at the beginning of the recent Iraq war, and its portrayal of international hostility toward the gringos is one of its great strengths). The two finally land at the remote Gasthaus Esmeralda, a curious inn run by the even more curious Karl Von Tollman and located in the middle of a “patch of Mexican jungle. . . crafted into a Little Bavaria.” Nicholson quickly delves into psychological terrain. Nick’s writer’s block is about unresolved issues with his racist, militaristic father: a predictable- and potentially trite-sounding theme that Nicholson handles with sophistication. Too, in Esmeralda, Sarah turns confessional. Increasingly furious about American imperialism, she wants to stay in Mexico and take up the cause of endangered animals. She reveals that she quit her meaningless tech job two months earlier, and has been supporting herself selling family heirlooms. She’s not the only one out of work: shortly before their trip, she ran into Nick’s boss at the grocery store—and he apprised her of his plans to fire Nick. Not to mention that, but, unbeknownst to Nick, she’s been in treatment for clinical anxiety. Oh, and there’s the fact that Sarah has taken a $20,000 cash advance from their credit cards. Circumstances spiral down from there. Still, the tale remains taut and suspenseful as Nick and Sarah find themselves ensnared in a tangle of politics and drugs.

Without qualification: take the road to Esmeralda.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-312-26863-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2005

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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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