FROM THE BLACK HILLS

A terse, resonant exploration of the lingering impact of betrayal and violence. Mike Newlin has just graduated from high school and is restlessly waiting to go off to college when his father, who runs an insurance agency in their small South Dakota farming community, shoots and kills his secretary. It quickly becomes apparent that his father had for some time been having an affair with the much younger woman. Little by little, as a driven, idiosyncratic detective investigates, a new and unsuspected version of Mike’s father comes to light, casting much of what Mike thinks he knows about him—and by implication much of what he thinks he knows about all those around him—into confusion. The plot may seem unsurprising at first, but Troy (West of Venus, 1997, etc.) manages to make it fresh and disturbing, thanks, in part, to her ear for the wry, unadorned speech of the West and to her keen eye for the small, modest gestures that reveal the fears and desires working within a character. Mike’s mother, his girlfriend Donetta, and the close circle of family acquaintances are all gradually revealed to Mike as far more complex than he had realized. Troy also catches with great subtlety the intense struggle that Mike is plunged into by his father’s betrayal. Shock, guilt, anger, confusion, and uncertainty follow one another in quick succession. Despite his grim determination to seal off his pain over his father’s actions (and his longing to believe that somehow his father wasn’t responsible), Mike begins to break down. He’s unable to settle into college life. He’s further unsettled by his mother’s dignity, and by her ability to imagine a life without his father. The sudden appearance of his father, still on the run, and the revelations about his duplicities that follow, finally move Mike, sorrowfully, to act. A spare, haunting story about the conflicting claims of loyalty and truth, by an assured and highly original writer. (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 21, 1999

ISBN: 0-375-50230-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1999

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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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