HELL

Davis's third (The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf, 1993) is a tour de force made up of the surreal and the poetic, of skillful shifts in voices, settings, and eras—but, under the pyrotechnics, with a nagging sense of there being primarily the familiar and well trodden. An unnamed 1950s family lives in a place first called ``the town of X'' but seeming later on to be suburban Philadelphia. In one of the rooms of this outwardly proper and well-manicured house- -it's got in it mother, father, two sisters, pet dachshund, and mice—is a dollhouse handed down from another generation: and as Davis's narrative unfolds, readers are treated to the mystery, humor, and irony of its being the dollhouse family rather than the ``real'' family who do the walking, talking, thinking, feeling, and reacting. Along with the versus dolls parallel is another, this one created by now and then: Nearby, in the 1860s, lived one Edwina Moss (the 1950s father's name is Edwin), who, like the later family, had not only a dog but also a daughter who fell ill, rejected food—and may have been mystic. What happens? Well, in both past and present, there's a huge storm, a sick daughter, and, in one way or another, a missing father (the Civil War being the cause in one case, work, temperament, and a stroke in the other). In the later tale, the anorexic daughter—Dorothy—loses her odd friend Joy to death in the hurricane, and learns about anti- Semitism when eccentric neighbor Benny Gold is (or is he?) accused of her murder. It's not always easy to tell what happened or just might have happened, though often enough there's involvement and charm amid the gloom—as when one of the house mice declares of the 1950s family that ``The mother was a drinker, the father a gust of wind.'' Brilliant, accomplished, capable, at times even moving—but with the air of an exercise about it for all that. *justify no* Davis's third (The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf, 1993) is a tour de force made up of the surreal and the poetic, of skillful shifts in voices, settings, and eras—but, under the pyrotechnics, with a nagging sense of there being primarily the familiar and well trodden. An unnamed 1950s family lives in a place first called ``the town of X'' but seeming later on to be suburban Philadelphia. In one of the rooms of this outwardly proper and well-manicured house- -it's got in it mother, father, two sisters, pet dachshund, and mice—is a dollhouse handed down from another generation: and as Davis's narrative unfolds, readers are treated to the mystery, humor, and irony of its being the dollhouse family rather than the ``real'' family who do the walking, talking, thinking, feeling, and reacting. Along with the versus dolls parallel is another, this one created by now and then: Nearby, in the 1860s, lived one Edwina Moss (the 1950s father's name is Edwin), who, like the later family, had not only a dog but also a daughter who fell ill, rejected food—and may have been mystic. What happens? Well, in both past and present, there's a huge storm, a sick daughter, and, in one way or another, a missing father (the Civil War being the cause in one case, work, temperament, and a stroke in the other). In the later tale, the anorexic daughter—Dorothy—loses her odd friend Joy to death in the hurricane, and learns about anti- Semitism when eccentric neighbor Benny Gold is (or is he?) accused of her murder. It's not always easy to tell what happened or just might have happened, though often enough there's involvement and charm amid the gloom—as when one of the house mice declares of the 1950s family that ``The mother was a drinker, the father a gust of wind.'' Brilliant, accomplished, capable, at times even moving—but with the air of an exercise about it f

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 1998

ISBN: 0-88001-560-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1997

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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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