Sketchy, toneless family drama in the Northern hinterland.

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ORIGIN OF HALOES

Patchily contrived tale about surviving abandonment, from Canadian novelist den Hartog (Water Wings, 2004, etc.).

In 1960, aspiring 16-year-old gymnast Kay Clancy of small-town Deep River, Ontario, trampolines into the arms of a tall transient, Joe LeBlanc. Their fatal romance ruins her chances for an Olympic career, even though Joe is not responsible for Kay’s pregnancy. She lets him think the father is high-school footballer Robbie Hayes, but actually it’s her well-off, married coach, Russell Halliwell, who wants nothing further to do with her. Admirably, Joe accepts baby Estelle, marries Kay and sticks around for a while; two other children, Louis and Margar, result. However, the convoluted drama of Estelle’s conception continues to fuel Joe’s anger and jealousy and he finally takes off for good. Youngest child Margar grows up catching only glimpses of Joe during his furtive nocturnal visits to the house. Coach Halliwell’s only son, Eddie, is also adrift, troubled by a traumatic early memory of overhearing Kay and his father discuss the pregnancy. Each chapter in this oddly structured work begins with a short description of the Olympic game concurrent to the family action, from Rome in 1960 to Moscow in 1980. An equally peculiar leitmotif is the romance of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his wife: Margar wishes she had been named after glamorous Margaret Trudeau instead of boring Saint Margaret. Den Hartog blankly juxtaposes private and Olympic events without providing a thematic context to pull them together, and her characters lack warmth or dimension. In the end, readers may feel—like Margar, who eventually takes down her pictures of the estranged Trudeaus—that they have made an emotional investment in people who weren’t really worth it.

Sketchy, toneless family drama in the Northern hinterland.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2005

ISBN: 1-59692-145-5

Page Count: 280

Publisher: MacAdam/Cage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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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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