A thoughtful, subtly structured exploration of fame and its discontents.

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FAMOUS PEOPLE

An unnamed 22-year-old pop star looks back over a decade in the spotlight and grapples with his family history.

Near the end of this tautly written debut novel, structured as its narrator’s memoir, he muses on his pop-culture ubiquity. “Something I’ve been thinking about a lot is what it would be like to read this book if you’d never heard of me before,” he writes. It’s a slightly self-conscious touch, but it’s also understandable: This musician at times feels like a recognizable composite of a number of 21st-century singers. The narrator’s relationship with his mentor, a writer named Bob Winstock with some bigoted remarks in his past, is particularly evocative of some of the more contentious aspects of Justin Bieber’s public persona. Structurally, the novel is more subtle than it first appears: It begins in celebrity tell-all mode, with the narrator discussing the loss of his virginity and observing that “it’s actually kind of hard for me to remember anything that happened in my life before I was famous.” But the narrator reveals himself to be more empathic than he seems, yearning for a kind of self-knowledge that he’s never developed the tools to manage and clearly frustrated in ways he can’t articulate by his parents’ divorce and his father’s suicide. It’s a tricky voice to pull off, and Kuritzkes occasionally overdoes some affectations of immaturity. A long subplot involving Oddvar, a scientist helping to maintain a seed vault in Svalbard, resolves ambiguously; it’s unclear if the narrator is unknowingly convincing Oddvar to leave work benefitting the planet for something more ephemeral or if Oddvar himself is unsure of what he wants. But overall, this novel emerges in a less satirical, more humanistic place than it begins.

A thoughtful, subtly structured exploration of fame and its discontents.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-30902-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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