Beautifully composed vignettes about loss and mortality by an emerging author devoted to his craft.

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THE TRUTH ABOUT CELIA

A slender, shimmering first novel in stories totters precariously between fact and fiction in the voice of a grieving father who tries to make sense of his young daughter’s disappearance.

Seven-year-old Celia Brooks vanishes from the backyard of her family’s suburban home on March 15, 1997—a day “perfectly pitched between winter and spring”—while her novelist father, Christopher Brooks, is inside showing his historic home to visitors. By ever widening streams-of-consciousness, storywriter Brockmeier (Things That Fall from the Sky, 2002) introduces the residents of the town of Springfield during the course of their daily rounds four years later that will culminate in their gathering for Celia’s memorial service: mother Janet, who plays clarinet in the Community Orchestra, buys a black dress downtown; superintendent of the local police force, Kimson Perry, teases the Reverend Gautreaux about his secretive smoking; while Springfield’s tolerated drunk, Asa Hutchinson, disrupts the service by throwing liquor bottles at the assembly. Punctuating these stories of reassuring normalcy are Christopher’s profound and unassuageable grief and guilt, and, in a marvelously adept synthesis of narration (where comparisons to The Lovely Bones halt instantly), author Brockmeier assumes the role of his narrator and vice versa as the novel embarks on a fantastic exploration of the possibilities of Celia’s disappearance. In one seemingly disembodied segment, “The Green Children,” Celia has slipped back to medieval times, when she and her sickly boy neighbor will be miraculously discovered hiding in the “wolf-pits” by the townspeople of Woolpit; in another chapter, “Appearance . . . ,” Celia has become a single mother called Stephanie, whose ten-year-old son Micah grows enchanted with a second-rate magician. These pieces don’t necessary constitute a novel, but Brockmeier’s writerly cleverness and wondrous phrasing—Celia plays in a “shock of grass,” and a woman of pleasure reveals “a tangled gusset of pubic hair”—make the whole transcendently affecting.

Beautifully composed vignettes about loss and mortality by an emerging author devoted to his craft.

Pub Date: July 8, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-42135-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2003

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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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