An author to watch once he “murders” his mentors.

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THE EXQUISITE

The namesake of a 17th-century thief helms a fake murder ring in New York’s East Village.

Henry, a young man whom the big city has chewed up and spit out, meets a tall Dutch-like beauty named Tulip, who leads him to Aris Kindt, who lifted his name from the cadaver subject of Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson. In homage to the late W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, Hunt (Indiana, Indiana, 2003, etc.) makes ekphrastic use of book and painting as templates for a danse macabre, a mannered gavotte featuring Kindt’s ersatz murder posse: a near-bionic woman known only as “knockout”; contortionist twins; a failed faux murderer named Anthony or Job; and Cornelius, Kindt’s henchman from way back, to a certain night on Lake Otsego. Against a backdrop of post-9/11 upheaval—black netting on windows is a leitmotif—present and past conflate. A hospital that houses homeless Henry after he’s hit by a florist’s van segues seamlessly into an institution for the criminally insane. Entranced by his new mentor’s courtly persona, his crackers and talismanic herring spread, his tales of the Dutch theft of New York and his air of soft-spoken menace, Henry quickly becomes chief “executioner,” and there are hints that one victim, Kindt’s accountant, may have actually died. Facts are provisional; only questions propel the plot. What are the origins of Kindt’s identity and prosperity? How will Kindt’s fake murder devolve into a real murder for which Henry is framed? Although the work deliberately subverts linearity and relies on a stylishly down-at-heels East Village for much of its resonance, Sebald-concordance and elegant gimmickry do the heavy lifting. Hunt’s lapidary dialogue, sharp observation and penchant for enlivening character with a few deft strokes might be better showcased in a less meta-fictional straitjacket.

An author to watch once he “murders” his mentors.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-56689-187-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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