An all-but-vanished world is brought thrillingly to life, in one of the best debuts novels in recent memory.



The Canadian Arctic is the setting for this elegiac and intricately patterned first novel, the work of an Ontario short-story writer (Country of Cold, 2003, etc.) and memoirist.

More specifically, it’s the settlement of Rankin Inlet on the northwestern coast of Hudson Bay—to which a beautiful Inuit woman named Victoria returns to rejoin her family in the late 1960s, after six years spent in a Montreal hospital being treated for tuberculosis. The world of the Inlet is rapidly, irreversibly changing. Seal and fish populations dwindle as industrialism alters the environment. Victoria’s father Emo, a renowned hunter and trapper, has accepted work in a mine, relocating his family to subsistence-level government housing. As years pass, Victoria, who has married British settler John Robertson (manager of the town store) and borne him three surviving children, yearns nostalgically for the years of her confinement when easily available books stimulated her imagination, and watches as her daughters (Justine and Marie) adjust differently to confusing cultural pressures, and her son Pauloosie “retreats” to the elemental world of previous generations. When outside business interests prepare to cultivate diamonds detected in the frozen tundra, Robertson betrays the interests of “his” people—and the unraveling of his marriage to Victoria (who has long since taken an Inuit lover) incarnates in microcosm the disintegration of the old, stable Inuit ways. Patterson displays a real gift for blending scenic description and ethnographic detail with narrative and characterization, and his crisp depictions of events experienced and remembered expand to include stunning images (“Pauloosie’s snow machine, twinkling its way north”) and ruminations on medical and personal matters recorded in the “journal” kept by Keith Balthazar, an American doctor who has come to Rankin Inlet to help the Inuits survive.

An all-but-vanished world is brought thrillingly to life, in one of the best debuts novels in recent memory.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-385-52074-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2007

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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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