Then-and-now prose pieces that, at their best, are among the finest there can be.

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OUR KIND

Called “a novel in stories,” Walbert’s new entry (after The Gardens of Kyoto, 2001, etc.) starts slowly, then reaches high indeed.

Walbert’s first-person plural (“we”) draws attention to itself in a tic-like way and automatically narrows and miniaturizes tone and theme, even character, since no chorus can have the idiosyncratic power of an individual. This “we” is a group of women who married and had babies back in the 1950s; now, they’re divorced or widowed, their daughters grown and gone—or dead. “The Intervention” opens with the group attempting to expose an unscrupulous realtor: the “we” is in full swing, the story at once conventional and affected. “Esther’s Walter” fares little better: a widow gives a party, then ceremoniously drinks poison in front of all her friends. “Bambi Breaks for Freedom”—an ex-pianist, in a wheelchair, telephones the man who once dumped her long ago—suffers from the same improbability and coy tone. But then things really start happening: The “we” falls aside as members of the group “tell” their stories in what are suddenly natural voices, with resulting believability and expressiveness. It’s revealed, in “Screw Martha,” that one daughter, Megan, actually killed herself, and from then on every scrap the reader can gather about her or her mother is riveting. In “Sick Chicks,” a nursing home death (the patients discuss Mrs. Dalloway) is perfect, deft, and unobtrusively poignant, as is “Warriors” (a young pregnant woman’s hidden tale is drawn out by a portrait photographer). Whole lives—a generation, an era—are handled with grace, deftness, and skill in these pieces, including the wondrous “Come As You Were,” where the women wear their old wedding dresses to a party, a sadly hilarious conceit that provides a veritable feast (as does “The Beginning of the End”) of tales that unflinchingly look half a century into the past and tell us exactly what was back there, and what is—or isn’t—still here, today.

Then-and-now prose pieces that, at their best, are among the finest there can be.

Pub Date: April 6, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-4559-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2004

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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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