Tales of spare, unflinching beauty show how love and loneliness can occupy a heart together.




“Urban/suburban women" experience the extremes of mother love—and its cost—in Walbert’s (His Favorites, 2018, etc.) volume of new and selected stories.

The opening story, “M&M World," sets the tone as a divorced New Yorker is seized with anxiety when she momentarily can’t find one of her daughters on an outing to Times Square. For Walbert’s financially secure but emotionally shaky white women, maternal love is both overpowering and deeply stressful. Friendship is at best a temporary salve for women socializing uneasily, if tipsily, during their daughters’ get-together in “Playdate.” Several stories look back to earlier times, when women were only beginning to explore the possibility of mutual support: In “The Blue Hour,” narrator Marion (who may or may not be the dead mother Marion mourned by a daughter in “Paris, 1994”) recalls her brief but intense friendship as a young mother in Rochester with a woman who couldn’t fit into the staid norms of the time and later committed suicide; in “Conversation,” ladies from “the faster set” in a Vietnam War–era suburban development attempt a “rap session” while the hostess’s black maid serves drinks until eventually joining in. “To Do,” about a teenage girl covering for her mother’s alcoholism—most of the women in these stories drink—is told from the point of view of the resentful grown daughter. But most of Walbert’s mothers, even the drinkers, cherish their children, especially when the child has special needs (“A Mother Is Someone Who Tells Jokes”), is emotionally damaged (“Esperanza”), or even dead (“Do Something”). “Radical Feminists” is the only story prominently featuring a man. The protagonist runs into her former boss, who once made her choose between a burgeoning career and motherhood. She adores her sons but still harbors vengeance fantasies toward her ex-boss. Oddly, the title story concerns the volume’s one successful professional, a widowed professor long past mothering. Reminiscent of Cheever’s “The Swimmer,” she escapes routine life by driving rainy streets, giving rides to strangers with whom she shares her stories.

Tales of spare, unflinching beauty show how love and loneliness can occupy a heart together.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9942-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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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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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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