A patient exploration of courtship and fatherhood stripped clean of politesse.

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MY STRUGGLE

BOOK TWO: A MAN IN LOVE

From the My Struggle series , Vol. 2

Raising a family, making art and the difficulty of reconciling the two drives the remarkable second installment of this six-volume novel-as-memoir.

At the end of the first volume of this series, Knausgaard (Out of This World, 2005; A Time for Everything, 2009) recalled bumbling as an adolescent and burying his father as an adult. This time, he remembers falling in love and becoming a father himself. As the novel-memoir opens, he’s at loose ends with his wife, Linda, and three children, whom he can’t help but see as intrusions upon his efforts to write. From there, the story swings back to nine years earlier as he leaves Norway for Stockholm, where he meets Linda in 1999 at a writers’ seminar, falls in love and starts a family. Knausgaard’s strategy throughout the series is to build immersive effects by delivering highly detailed descriptions of his minor experiences and paths of thought; in this case, much of the heart of the book is taken up by Linda’s pregnancy and their anticipation of their first child, from crib shopping to miscarriage scares to the actual birth itself. He presents all of it in plainspoken terms; the power and relief of the birth isn’t drawn in triumphant rhetoric but in a sense of exhaustion. (“Two women began to tidy up around us as we watched this creature that was suddenly there.”) Knausgaard doesn’t always present himself as father-of-the-year material, sweating how much time he’ll have to research and write his second novel and squabbling with his family and fussy neighbors in the search for some peace and quiet. “Relationships were there to eradicate individuality, to fetter freedom and suppress that which was pushing through,” he whimpers. But his candor, if not his attitude, is admirable—he’s not rationalizing his behavior but flatly, honestly representing it.

A patient exploration of courtship and fatherhood stripped clean of politesse.

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-935744-82-5

Page Count: 573

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2015

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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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