Halfway through, this series is starting to look like an early-21st-century masterpiece.

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MY STRUGGLE

BOOK THREE: BOYHOOD

From the My Struggle series , Vol. 3

The narrator of the third volume of Knausgaard’s epic of the everyday recalls the frustrations and curious joys of boyhood.

It’s common to see My Struggle, Knausgaard’s six-volume set of heavily autobiographical novels, compared to Proust. With some reason: Both books are bulky, highly personal and unearth deep insights from humdrum acts. But where Proust is philosophical, Knausgaard is more plainly descriptive, and part of his books’ magic is how they gather strength, snowballing small detail upon small detail until he’s captured life’s fullness in a way traditional storytelling arcs fail to. This volume centers on Karl Ove roughly from the ages of 6 to 12, and it’s masterful on a number of fronts. Most prominently, it gets at the roots of the dysfunctional relationship with his father that Knausgaard detailed in the previous two books. Karl Ove was a sensitive boy who could do little to please dad, an emotionally closed-off teacher, and though the boy was rarely physically abused (My Struggle’s provocative title has always been a touch satirical), Karl Ove’s evolution from eager to please to contemptuous feels justified, exact and natural. Knausgaard reimagines boyhood in general with similar precision; at the time, his family lived in a remote Norwegian town, and the book is filled with forest treks, games, squabbles with friends and an overall sense of an identity coming together. That’s particularly acute in the closing pages, as puberty strikes and Karl Ove fumblingly tries to understand girls. (One early victim is subject to his insistence that they break a 15-minute kissing record, and he’s befuddled when she breaks things off soon after.) Candor and fearlessness are the hallmarks of the books: Knausgaard will share anything, not for shock value or self-indulgence, but to show that plainspoken honesty gets to the heart of the human condition.

Halfway through, this series is starting to look like an early-21st-century masterpiece.

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-935744-86-3

Page Count: 427

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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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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