While sometimes annoyingly myopic—Waring’s African-Americans are invisible, the white Christians stereotypically...

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A TOWN OF EMPTY ROOMS

Is it possible to know another person, even one you love, is the question posed in this novel by Bender (Like Normal People, 2000), which dissects a married couple in crisis.

Serena, a 37-year old Manhattan mother of two small children, loses her marketing job and barely escapes criminal charges after acting out her grief over her father’s death with an irrational, irresponsible buying spree on her employer’s credit card. Serena’s husband, Dan, who fell in love with Serena because she seemed to offer the security he lacked during a horrific childhood, doesn’t understand her behavior and no longer trusts her. Serena, drawn to Dan for his sunny optimism and self-assurance, now feels emotionally abandoned by him. She barely registers that Dan is also grieving, albeit more quietly, his long-estranged brother’s death. When Dan gets a job as a publicist for a small North Carolina town, the Shines and their two small children grab the chance to start over. But as culturally sophisticated, nonobservant New York Jews, they quickly find themselves isolated in culturally drab, blaringly Christian Waring, N.C., personified by the Shines’ elderly neighbor Forrest Sanders, head of the local Boy Scout troop. Dan, who always yearned to be a Scout like his older brother, enthusiastically signs up his son and volunteers as Forrest’s helper. Surrounded by Christians, Serena feels her Jewish identity more acutely and gravitates toward the small congregation of Temple Shalom, particularly charismatic but controversial Rabbi Josh Golden; placed on the Temple Board, she finds herself torn between loyalty to Rabbi Josh, for whom she feels genuine gratitude not to mention affection, and increasing evidence that he may be psychologically unfit for his job. Meanwhile, Dan refuses to take seriously Serena’s concern that Forrest’s pride in himself as a good Christian neighbor has turned into threatening hostility. The Shines both want community and intimacy, but can they achieve either together?

While sometimes annoyingly myopic—Waring’s African-Americans are invisible, the white Christians stereotypically one-dimensional—Bender portrays a marriage in crisis with heartbreaking accuracy.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-61902-069-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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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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