Timely but not the author’s finest work.

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HIS FAVORITES

An acclaimed American author looks at sexual abuse.

On a warm summer night in the 1970s, teenage Jo convinces her two best friends, Carly and Stephanie, to steal a golf cart at the country club and go for a drunken joy ride. Jo is behind the wheel, so she is the one responsible when an accident leaves Stephanie dead. Jo and her family become outcasts in their small Maryland suburb, so it seems like a stroke of luck when Jo is accepted into an elite boarding school in Massachusetts. Hawthorne is full of kids from Manhattan, the children of the rich and famous. Jo left home because she had become an outcast, but she’s no more welcome in her new school than she was in her hometown. The only person who takes much interest in her is a charismatic English teacher the students simply refer to as “Master.” Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that his attention isn’t the good kind. Much of Jo’s story will be depressingly predictable to most readers, from a powerful man using his position to prey on children to the skeptical, largely untroubled reaction Jo receives when she tries to tell a school administrator what happened to her. But Walbert doesn’t bring much that’s new or thought-provoking to this familiar tale. Part of the trouble is formal. Walbert is well-known for both her short fiction and novels-in-stories like The Sunken Cathedral (2015) and Our Kind (2004). Her new book is being marketed as a novel; at 160 pages, it’s more of a novella, but what it really feels like is a short story that outgrew the form without quite becoming something else. There are flashbacks to the night of the accident that add nothing since what happened is not a mystery; Jo begins her narration with a thorough account of that night. There is also a superabundance of information about Hawthorne—its history, its traditions—when all the reader needs to know is that it’s a New England prep school. Most problematic, though, is the emotional flatness of the story, which is particularly disappointing from a writer as skilled at illuminating the inner lives of women as Walbert.

Timely but not the author’s finest work.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9939-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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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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