A mesmerizing collection of stories about the secrets that keep us.

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THE ISLE OF YOUTH

A gifted American fiction writer tackles little slivers of crime from the points of view of young women on the verge of self-discovery.

Had these hardhearted stories of trespassers, exiles and beautiful losers come from one of the regular blokes, readers would label them noir and call it a day. But in the hands of superlative writer van den Berg (What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, 2009), these stories seem to dig a little deeper and resonate a little longer. In the opening story, “I Looked For You, I Called Your Name,” a woman on her honeymoon realizes a series of natural disasters is merely a precursor to the looming tragedy of her own marriage. “Opa-Locka” is a traditional private-eye story about two sisters playing detective, waiting to see how the story ends. Two fantastic and very different stories are the collection’s highlights. “Lessons” captures a moment in the risky lives of a gang of rural youngsters who have reimagined themselves as stickup artists. “Why didn’t they go to school and get regular jobs and get married and live in houses?” it asks. “The short answer: they are a group of people committed to making life as hard as possible.” Meanwhile, in “Acrobat,” a woman whose husband abandons her in Paris falls in with a band of street performers who adopts her as one of their own. In “Antarctica,” a rather uncommon housewife travels a vast distance to a remote scientific base at the South Pole to discover how her brother died. “The Greatest Escape” finds a young woman wrestling with the long-ago disappearance of her father. Finally, the title story successfully integrates all of van den Berg’s gifts for stories of mistaken identity, unresolved menace and uncomfortable insight. With prose as crisp and cool as that of Richard Lange or Patricia Highsmith, van den Berg is someone to keep track of.

A mesmerizing collection of stories about the secrets that keep us.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-17723-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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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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