Yoder, a Pulitzer-winning journalist, doesn’t get much more dramatic than these high-minded face-offs, but the overall...



Sigmund Freud spars with Henry James in this light and amusing historical novel.

Although there is no evidence that Freud ever met novelist James, the contemporary thinkers would have had much to discuss. In this fanciful imagining of such a meeting, Yoder (Telling Others What to Think, 2004, etc.) envisions a visit brought about by the novelist’s brother (and Freud’s psychological colleague) William James, who fears that Henry’s increasingly ornate later literary style is the result of obsessive neuroses. The year is 1908, when the younger James was in fact revising his earlier works. Yoder creates a young scholar, Horace Briscoe, to observe the events both at the time and from a later date when, as a noted academic, he must decide what to do with Freud’s incomplete case notes taken during a brief, informal psychoanalysis performed on the novelist during the visit. Briscoe also serves as the hero of a romantic subplot, as his courtship of the troubled but beautiful Agnes brings more human drama into play. But the action in this brief novel is really between the great men, and they are at odds from the start. James’ famed celibacy, for example, makes an obvious focus for Freud, who was then disseminating his theories of infantile sexuality and the Oedipal complex. But to the fastidious, if not prissy, James, such notions are repellent. To James, the Austrian intellectual is primarily a wonderful character; he is chiefly concerned with capturing the doctor’s mannerisms as fodder for letters to his dear friend, Edith Wharton. When James begins poking fun at Freud, his young assistant steps in to warn the doctor, and the long passages detailing the great minds’ views of each other are the highlight of the book.

Yoder, a Pulitzer-winning journalist, doesn’t get much more dramatic than these high-minded face-offs, but the overall effect is knowledgeable fun.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-933372-34-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2007

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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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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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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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