STARING AT THE SUN

Barnes (Flaubert's Parrot) has used portraiture-at-three-ages before, in 1980's Metroland. Where that book had an aggressively sociocultural finish, though, this new one hooks a rug of metaphor more philosophical and religious. Jean Serjeant's childhood in the 1920's is bedeviled and enlightened by her golf-course outings with her Uncle Leslie, during which his charming eccentricity poses to her certain questions and conundrums (Is there a Sandwich museum? Why don't Jews like golf? Why is heaven up the chimney? Why is the mink excessively tenacious of life?)—mysteries that provide her with a kind of bravery and fear mixed together. Also they seemed to have had the capacity to render her all but unfit for normal life. Marriage, a son, divorce, travel—she goes on to have and do all these things but never feels herself quite connected to them. Her son, Gregory, inherits the deracination; and, then, as a bachelor of 60 (Jean still doughtily hanging on at 100 in the year 2002), he decides to ask his own versions of Uncle Leslie's questions lo a great central computer that will—to a select few—reveal ultimate truths, i.e., Does God exist? Why is there death? As Flaubert's Parrot proved. Barnes is special at subtle recapitulation; he can under- and over-knot a mere detail until it comes to seem like a living seed; and he has a fine, off-center sense of humor that falls toward the commonsensical and sends up the needlessly fancy. This is all here again—but more pokily; Jean's teenaged acquaintance with a scared fighter pilot, for instance, etches the fine line between bravery and cowardice—but too portentously. Her impressions of travels lo China and the Grand Canyon are intelligently odd—but, in a novel, sit there like travel notes all the same. Probably a better way to read this book is as an elegantly well-done successor (and homage) to Cyril Connolly's black diamond, The Unquiet Grave: an excursus, a self-mocking meditation. Certainly the final section—Gregory's search for and the finding of faith—is very moving, a hundred juggled balls in the air, all somehow—wizardly, humanely—caught. Not truly a novel, then—nor satisfying as one—but added proof of Barnes' deft skill for artistic and intellectual cubism.

Pub Date: April 2, 1987

ISBN: 0679748202

Page Count: 215

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1987

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 10

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more