At first glance, this seems to be the worst possible knockoff of 20th-Century Lit 101, but Hunt manages to infuse enough...



A mentally disturbed man’s attempts to help his institutionalized wife, as related by Hunt (The Impossibly, 2001) in a Faulknerian voice that succeeds better than one would have reason to expect.

Although the setting is Indiana, there is more than a whiff of Southern Gothic about this tale, basically a family saga about an unhappy farming clan named Summers. As seen mostly from the perspective (and in the voice) of the simple-minded Noah, the Summers people like your basic cold-blooded, upstanding country folk, neither terribly perverse nor terribly interesting in their own right. Noah’s father was a schoolmaster before he married and settled down to farm life; Noah himself never learned to read and write very well and seems never to have held a job of any kind (although he delivered mail briefly during WWII when postmen were in short supply). Most of his neighbors might look upon Noah as the village idiot, but he is really more in the nature of a seer—quite literally. Noah’s odd, apparently meaningless visions often turn out to be uncanny (he once saw a grandfather clock, for example, hovering over a field in which it lay buried), and the local sheriff made use of his insights more than once. But Noah’s great curse was his inability to help his wife Opal, committed to a mental institution and subjected to the systematic horrors of 1950s-era psychiatry (electrotherapy, etc.). Hunt’s depiction of the inner workings of Noah’s mind (often phrased in extremely long stream-of-consciousness sentences) takes some getting used to, but he becomes a credible and sympathetic character in short order, and his plight—and Opal’s—become equally vivid (and heartbreaking).

At first glance, this seems to be the worst possible knockoff of 20th-Century Lit 101, but Hunt manages to infuse enough life into these old modernist bones that by the end they dance like a Halloween skeleton.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-56689-144-2

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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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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