Somewhere in Eastern Europe, somewhere between Kafka and Orwell, a corporate flunky awakens to life and his government’s stranglehold on it—in a bleakly poetic, slow-moving debut by storywriter Frederick. Petir receives a phone call from Eduard, whom he once knew (but not well), asking him to rendezvous in Eduard’s stead with a lover, and for reasons he doesn’t begin to understand, Petir agrees. The woman is fetching but distant, serving to deepen Petir’s dissatisfaction with his lot—that of a divorced, apolitical workaholic. In his confusion, he takes another unfathomable step: he writes personally to one of the pesky claimants whose hopes—whatever they may be—it is really Petir’s job to squelch. For his trouble he receives an eyeless bird’s head and peasant curses from the claimant, Pund, a loner who lost his leg in an accident for which Petir’s company refuses to provide compensation. Then Eduard is killed (in women’s clothing) on the edge of a lawless, teeming refugee encampment outside their city, and Petir realizes that he’ll never be able to return to his former state of blissful ignorance. Pund harasses and assaults him, his ex-wife reenters his life as a lesbian, and Eduard’s lover begins to take an interest in him. Finally, a repressed childhood memory kicks in, and he begins to come to terms with the fact that his mother had sent him out of the house just before she blew it up with his father and herself inside. As the state’s true totalitarian nature grows more apparent every day, and civil unrest intensifies, Petir endures his various other torments, then decides to risk a small but exquisite humanitarian gesture, reaching out to nemesis Pund in an act that redeems them both. A novel with such a full cargo of lonely souls needs more wind in its sails; this one’s becalmed in a Sargasso Sea of introspective flotsam and loose ends.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-57962-013-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

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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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