The good news is that John and Dweena overcome their excruciating shyness to find romance. A joy.

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FRANKLAND

A comedy of misunderstandings blooms to perfection in Whorton’s (Approximately Heaven, 2003) enchanting and erudite caper, set in hillbilly eastern Tennessee.

Imagine an aspiring historian, smart, idealistic, and dogged, but with the unhappy knack of making wrong decisions. Then meet our narrator, 28-year-old John Tolley. Comfortably ensconced in Ohio as editor of a Civil War magazine, he abruptly moves to New York and winds up as a spit-roaster. However, research on his special interest, President Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, yields a clue to a missing Johnson scrapbook, and it becomes John’s goal to hunt it down and make history. Suckered into buying a rapidly expiring Plymouth Duster, he barely makes it to Tennessee. Once there, nothing is what it seems. A female mail-carrier appears to be stealing a newspaper, and a little man emerges from a hole to mug him. When it turns out that the little man is a harmless dog trainer, Boo Price, and the scrupulously honest mail carrier is his cousin Dweena, Whorton’s deadpan comic genius exploits the misunderstandings—here and elsewhere—for laugh-out-loud results. John rents a log house from Boo and learns about treeing coons and dipping tobacco (culture-shock, but no cheap shots). His big break comes when a prestigious history magazine offers to publish his Johnson article. Oops, sorry: the editor, Professor Luke Van Brun, has confused John with a Buchanan essayist; John’s own essay is, er, water-damaged. And so it goes. John’s quest for that missing scrapbook becomes more complicated when he crosses paths with Danielle, reporter for a cable news show looking for a big story, and more complicated still when the treacherous Van Brun tries to steal John’s lead. It’s all great fun, but there’s also a poignancy to John’s realization that he has “a screwiness, deep down,” which sent him on this wild-goose chase.

The good news is that John and Dweena overcome their excruciating shyness to find romance. A joy.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-4448-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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