Axie’s profane Irish brogue is vividly recreated with virtually no anachronistic slips, and though a certain degree of...

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MY NOTORIOUS LIFE

A rollicking romp through 19th-century American contraception inspired by the true story of a Manhattan midwife.

In 1860, Axie, nee Annie, is “rescued” from a New York slum along with her siblings and sent West on an orphan train. In the Illinois prairie, Axie’s younger sister Dutchie and brother Joe find homes, but the irascible 12-year old is sent back to New York along with Charlie, another street-wise urchin. Axie reunites with her mother, but her joy is short-lived: After “Mam” delivers an infant who dies shortly after birth, Mam herself expires of childbed fever at the home of Mrs. Evans, a midwife and, some say, abortionist. Truly orphaned this time, Axie is apprenticed to Mrs. Evans and by the age of 16, is an accomplished midwife’s assistant who has picked up many helpful hints about all aspects of pregnancy, including avoiding it and ending it. After her mentor’s death, Axie, who is now married to Charlie, a would-be journalist, concocts and peddles a female medication that, often enough, has a side effect of inducing miscarriage. Aided by Charlie’s marketing smarts, Axie is soon running a thriving and lucrative business, dispensing pills, sex education, birth control advice and, when necessary to help her clients avert certain death or ruin, the occasional first trimester abortion. Her clients range from tenement dwellers to Manhattan’s upper crust, and while amassing tremendous wealth, Axie, operating as Madame DeBeausacq, sees her main mission as freeing women from the consequences of men’s unbridled lust and profligacy. However, when Manhattan’s penny tabloids, egged on by two disgruntled doctors, foment a scandal accusing “Madame X” of child murder and infant trafficking, Axie is consigned to Manhattan’s notorious Tombs jail. The ensuing events highlight controversies regarding “reproductive health” that are still raging today.  

Axie’s profane Irish brogue is vividly recreated with virtually no anachronistic slips, and though a certain degree of polemical crusading is unavoidable given Axie’s proclivities, her voice never fails to entertain.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4516-9806-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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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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