A witty but kindhearted academic satire that oscillates between genuine compassion and scathing mockery with admirable...

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THE SHAKESPEARE REQUIREMENT

Beleaguered English professor Jason Fitger, the unlucky protagonist of the Thurber Prize–winning novel Dear Committee Members (2014), returns to Payne University to fight another day.

Schumacher (English/The Univ. of Minnesota; An Explanation for Chaos, 1997, etc.) abandons the epistolary style of her previous novel for a straight narrative but retains all of its acid satire in a sequel that is far more substantive and just as funny. Our malcontent professor Fitger has been promoted to chair of his deeply dysfunctional English department. But his dwindling domain is in the crosshairs of villainous economics chair Roland Gladwell, who is trying to push English out of the basement of his precious Willard Hall and—if a troubling new quality assurance program comes to fruition—out of the curriculum entirely. Fitger’s only allies in his turf war are his ex-wife, Janet Matthias, who is now sleeping with the school’s dowdy dean, Philip Hinckler, and Fran Ignatieff, his gladiatorial administrative assistant, who generally hates him. From here, Schumacher throws her accident-prone lead into an unceasing comedy of errors. Fitger’s arc includes defending his Literature of the Apocalypse class from accusations that it's “psychologically hostile,” an absurd series of quests to convince (read: bribe) his colleagues to sign off on a required “Statement of Vision,” and a simmering alliance with Marie Eland, chair of the Consolidated Languages department, who best understands his plight. “It is about staying alive for the length of your term,” she says. “Because this is a game for them—for the deans and the provost and the vice provosts: to cut us back and back and back and suppose what we will do. What do you name this? A blood sport.” Subplots involving students, among them a naïve freshman, a duplicitous teaching assistant, and an ambitious department intern, are slightly less acerbic, but the Shakespearean drama between departments and colleagues is popcornworthy.

A witty but kindhearted academic satire that oscillates between genuine compassion and scathing mockery with admirable dexterity.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-385-54234-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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