Dumb fun, smartly imagined.

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GUS OPENSHAW’S WHALE-KILLING JOURNAL

A blogger-slash-whaler goes hunting for his prey in the Caribbean—where the waters are shark-infested, the crew is always on the verge of mutiny and absurd plot twists arrive with every other paragraph.

Thomson’s raucous comedy of errors is the tale of Gus Openshaw, a worker at a cat-food cannery who spends his summer hot on the trail of the “blubbery bastard” who swallowed his wife, child and right arm. Openshaw obsessively details his pursuit on his blog, and he’s a little surprised to learn that his readership knows of other obsessive, one-limbed whalers. (“I’ve been calling [the whale] ‘Dickhead,’ ” he writes. “Everybody always laughs and says that’s a witty reference. Hell if I know why.”) Joining him on the trip are a short-tempered, murderous cook, a deckhand who’s addicted to hull cleaner, the appropriately named Stupid George (who at one point heaves a harpoon handle-first) and Flarq, a Queequeg-like deckhand who draws “scrimshaws” of the events in the story (illustrations appear throughout). Thomson constantly subverts the narrative by concocting increasingly ridiculous turns of events—Openshaw’s sued for libeling Dickhead on his blog, after which he falls for the Princess of Whales, the ruler of a small whale-worshipping island who, in turn, happens to work for a black-market arms dealer who appears at crucial moments with, say, a prosthetic arm, or an F-15 fighter jet. Yet Thomson never loses his grip on the plot—he works hard to make the story hang together logically; the brief, blog-length chapters, meanwhile, keep the jokes punchy and entertaining. If Moby-Dick was a richly symbolic work about the whole of human experience, this is just an assortment of riffs on adventure tales, love stories and human idiocy in general. Thomson is no Melville, but there’s no question who’s the better gag-writer.

Dumb fun, smartly imagined.

Pub Date: March 24, 2006

ISBN: 1-59692-172-2

Page Count: 260

Publisher: MacAdam/Cage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2006

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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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