An unsparing exploration of a modest, tragic life, in a debut of considerable power. Mitcham's various talents (he is a poet as well as the chair of the psychology department at Georgia's Fort Valley State College) come into shrewd play here: The language in which Ellis Burt, at 74, looks back over his life is precise, evocative, convincing, and Mitcham's dissection of the manner in which Ellis's furies have driven him to several disastrous acts is persuasive. Ellis, a Georgia sharecropper's son, loses his innocence and any belief in his future when, at the age of 14, he witnesses several white men torturing, then killing, his best friend. Isaiah, the son of a black sharecropper, had been accused, wrongly, of robbery. Even as an old man, Ellis still remembers with painful clarity watching, in hiding, frozen, as Isaiah dies. Guilty, ashamed, he grows up a drifter, expecting little, until he courts and (to his astonishment) wins the love of Susan, who is confident, warm, supportive. For a time the sweet pleasures of marriage convince Ellis that life may have some point after all. But then, in an unthinking act of violence, he indirectly causes the death of his young son. Compounding the horror, he sets fire to his house in his grief, and the blaze quickly spreads to nearby homes. He serves time in prison and, when he is released, starts drifting again, hoping to locate some final purpose in his life. He finds it when he rediscovers Susan, now an inmate of a retirement home where he serves as a janitor. She suffers from Alzheimer's, and Ellis, with a nicely understated poignancy, quietly begins to tend her. It's a profoundly moving moment. The flow of Ellis's memories is occasionally confusing or melodramatic, but the dense reality of this unblinking exploration of a life overcomes such lapses. This slender, resonant first novel gives us a protagonist so vividly rendered that his quiet redemption feels like one's own.

Pub Date: June 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-8203-1807-8

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1996

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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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