A momentous feat of storytelling in an already illustrious career.

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ORANGE WORLD AND OTHER STORIES

Russell's third collection beckons like a will-o'-the-wisp across the bog, with eight crisp stories that will leave longtime fans hungry for more.

Since her debut more than a decade ago, Russell (Sleep Donation, 2014, etc.) has exhibited a commitment to turning recognizable worlds on their heads in prose so rich that sentences almost burst at the seams. Her third collection is no exception, and its subjects—forgotten pockets of violent American history, climate-related apocalypse, the trials of motherhood—feel fresh and urgent in her care. Russell takes an expansive view of history, excavating past horrors and imagining the contours of real terror on the horizon. In "The Prospectors," two society-savvy gold diggers must fight their way out of a haunted ski lodge without attracting the wrath of long-dead Civilian Conservation Corps men killed by an avalanche on the job. Even within the framework of her ghost story, Russell remains attuned to the performances women mount in order to survive the threat of male violence: "People often mistake laughing girls for foolish creatures," cautions the narrator. "They mistake our merriment for nerves or weakness, or the hysterical looning of desire. Sometimes, it is that. But not tonight." In "The Tornado Auction," a widowed farmer risks it all to return to his calling—rearing tornadoes on the Nebraskan plains—over the protests of his three grown daughters. "I saw, I understood, that in fact I had always been the greatest danger to my family. I was the apex predator," he muses after a terrible accident, exhibiting the guilt and regret of a loving father who nevertheless finds it difficult to change his ways. While the title story, "Orange World," offers a chilling—and insightful—depiction of motherhood as a real-life devil's bargain, it dips a toe in the realm of schlocky and crude horror uncharacteristic of Russell's other work. The result is mixed even though the story retains Russell's hallmark narrative strengths: a narrator who butts up against the edge of her own expectations and a strange, uncanny world that yields a difficult solution to a familiar emotional problem. "Rae admits that she is having some difficulties with nursing....There is no natural moment in the conversation to say, Mother, the devil has me."

A momentous feat of storytelling in an already illustrious career.

Pub Date: May 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-65613-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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