A delightful, surprise-filled narrative: Davis’s best yet.



Metamorphosis, resurrection and the mysterious ways in which all living things are connected are the themes of Davis’s homespun magical-realist sixth novel (Versailles, 2002, etc.).

Its setting is Varennes, a quaint little town on the Canadian border whose inhabitants all know one another as well as they know both their own domestic animals and the latters’ wild counterparts. With lordly omniscience, Davis takes us inside all these creatures’ thoughts, following an arresting opening sequence in which a dead man is revived. Preadolescent Mees Kipp’s life-giving “power” (first discovered when she was three, and since honed by conversations with periodic visitor Jesus) is only one of the many mysteries of growing up—as her girlfriends Lorna and Sunny only dimly comprehend. That the world is an infinitely varied, bountiful and threatening place becomes progressively clear to everyone in Varennes, including bookbinder Andrea Murdock (through whose research we learn of the long-ago “Sunday School Outing Disaster” that claimed several of the town’s best and brightest); sexually hyperactive sexagenarian Piet Zeebrugge and his mother Helen, who languishes impatiently in the Crockett Home for the Aged; love-starved Billie Carpenter, who devotes her untapped energies to humanitarian and environmental causes; Mees’s perpetually misbehaving malamute Margaret; a beaver targeted for annihilation by a charismatic trapper; and many others. Davis leads her characters—human and animal alike—surely toward another potential “disaster” on Pentecostal Sunday, mingling numerous seriocomic incidents with summary statements that reveal a cosmic vision that can instantly charm you, then stomp all over you (e.g., “Water has more properties that are beneficial to human beings than any other substance. Also it can drown you”). The quirky, immensely gifted Davis has been compared to Kafka, Dinesen and Hans Christian Andersen. One might also say she is to contemporary fiction what Emily Dickinson was to 19th-century poetry.

A delightful, surprise-filled narrative: Davis’s best yet.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2006

ISBN: 0-316-73504-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2005

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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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