Despite the novel’s relative brevity, Miller captures the ways community, faith, and class create a variety of cultural...

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AUGUSTOWN

A boy’s schoolroom punishment opens a window into the roiling, mystical history of a Jamaican community.

When Kaia arrives at the home of his great-aunt Ma Taffy from school with his dreadlocks shorn off, it’s more than a case of a teacher taking discipline too far. It’s a direct attack on the family’s Rastafarian heritage, and the incident prompts Ma Taffy to think back on the history of Kingston's Augustown neighborhood and the persecutions two generations past. More specifically, she recalls the story of Alexander Bedward, a proto-Rastafari preacher who in the 1920s captivated the island with rumors that he was able to levitate. And, just as Bedward was attacked by the then-ruling British government threatened by his popularity, Miller suggests that the bigotry persisted into 1982, when the story is set. Miller’s excellent third novel is built on sharp, sensitive portraits of key players in what at first seems a minor incident, from Ma Taffy and Bedward to Kaia’s teacher, the school principal, and neighborhood gangsters, each of whom are fending off personal and cultural misunderstandings. To that end, they’re all subject to the concept of “autoclaps,” Jamaican slang for calamity; Miller returns to this point often, and storytelling suggests that Augustown (based on the real August Town) is a place where the other shoe keeps dropping. Miller insists that Bedward’s floating not be interpreted as sprightly magical realism but as a symbol for how the place is misunderstood and how such misunderstandings feed into needless violence: “Consider...not whether you believe in this story or not,” he writes, “but whether this story is about the kinds of people you have never taken the time to believe in.”

Despite the novel’s relative brevity, Miller captures the ways community, faith, and class create a variety of cultural microclimates.

Pub Date: May 23, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-87161-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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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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