As Jones says, this land is adrift from history, and Coates brings it alive.

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THE MASTER OF MONTEREY

Second-novelist Coates (the award-winning Blossom Festival, not reviewed) returns with the tale of a confused ship and commodore waging an imaginary war on California.

The 1842 real-life attack on Monterey is here turned into farce. We join the hapless Commodore Jones as he and his trusty companion and ex-slave Hannibal acquire their ship, named for Jones’s lost love, Louisa Darling, and set about gathering a crew. These include Rafael Rafael, who has the Adamic gift of a third testicle; seaman extraordinaire Merry Jack Chase; and William Waxdeck, the epic poet to whom Jones assigns the task of recording their adventure in verse. In a story sometimes reminiscent of Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage, at least in spirit, the ship is eventually assigned the task of taking California in a war that may or may not be happening. There need be only one shot on the Presidio to do it—and it’s a cannonball that rips through the wedding party of the beautiful Arcadia, who has been a virgin since she was three years old, has trained to be a nun, but has also learned that the way to be fruitful is not by touching oneself but by encountering the snakeman. Arcadia has secretly been longing for the American ship to interrupt her marriage, but will the commodore’s attack really just amount to a ship of fools? After all, isn’t Jones a little too preoccupied with the epic poet’s progress? And is there really a war anyway, and if so, are those who have just been attacked authorized to surrender? Coates’s prose pulls off this pseudo-history with a flavoring of magic realism: “When the Commodore told him to ready the ship for California, he was thirty-five, in the middle of some road or other, and he hadn’t looked in a mirror for more than twenty years.”

As Jones says, this land is adrift from history, and Coates brings it alive.

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-87417-529-1

Page Count: 360

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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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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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