BLACK WATER

Oates's latest is an impassioned re-creation of the tragedy at Chappaquiddick—with names withheld and the date moved to the current, post-Reagan era. Her name is Elizabeth Kelleher, called "Kelly" by her friends; her age, 26 and eight months; occupation, reporter for the liberal Citizen's Inquiry, whose editor once worked on the Bobby Kennedy campaign. Pretty, tentative Kelly attends casually and without expectations the Fourth of July get-together hosted by her best friend, Buff), St. John, on Grayling Island—little realizing that "the Senator"—charismatic liberal politician, contender for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, and subject of her senior thesis at Brown—will drop in for a few drinks and a game or two of tennis. The Senator, red-eyed, heavy, and in his late 50s, looks the political warhorse he is, but it's his appetite for debate, politics, and life itself that intrigues the young journalist—he is, after all, her hero. She allows him to lead her on a walk along the beach, to kiss her, to suggest that they catch the ferry off the island and have dinner at his hotel. She is the one, the one he's chosen, Kelly tells herself, frightened though she is as the Senator speeds down a dark, unpaved road toward the ferry, sloshing a fresh gin-and-tonic on her dress. But when his car flips off the road and into the black, polluted Indian River, Kelly gradually realizes that her assumption is false: she isn't chosen, at least not for rescue—and her brief life, with its half-understood longings, fears, and dreams, is over almost before it has begun. One may question whether yet another fictional account, no matter how brief and evocative, of this infamous accident is really worthwhile—though dates fans (and there are many) won't be disappointed.

Pub Date: May 8, 1992

ISBN: 0452269865

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1992

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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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