Masterfully detailed and elegant in all its parts but ultimately a novel that prioritizes the virtuoso skill of its...

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In her signature crisp, exacting prose, Tuck’s (The Double Life of Liliane, 2015, etc.) seventh novel haunts the territory of marital jealously with delicacy and finesse.

The unnamed narrator of this slim book is a second wife, inheritor of two teenage stepchildren and all the well-thumbed habits of a previous marriage which consumed her husband’s youth and most of his passion. What the reader knows about the narrator’s husband is a series of small preferences—he is an avid tennis player; he “had good taste and dressed well—he wore bespoke shirts made in England”—from which we are led to infer both his basically callow nature and the narrator’s ambivalence toward her marriage. The narrator herself is far more interesting. She possesses a mimetic memory for incidental detail (she can recall outfits, menus, vintages of wine from events years in the past) coupled with a yearning for the kind of sophistication she imagines as wholly natural to the ex-wife our narrator refers to only as she. She is an almost entirely hypothetical creation whose habits, partialities, cultured languor, and equally cultured passion (before her marriage she was a gifted concert pianist) the narrator covets with a tricky blend of curiosity, jealousy, and desire. Indeed, so heady is the narrator’s longing for news of the ex-wife’s life, so convulsive the way she inserts herself into the shape the ex-wife has left behind, it is hard not to anticipate the story tending toward a climactic confrontation between the two wives after the fashion of a Hollywood psychodrama. Tuck is far too consummate and unusual a stylist to allow for any such bathos; however, the novel’s quiet rooms, fragmented form, sensual descriptions of food, wine, and fabric, and, above all, its dreamy pace combine to lull the reader into a reverie from which the actual plot’s sudden climax comes as a rude awakening.

Masterfully detailed and elegant in all its parts but ultimately a novel that prioritizes the virtuoso skill of its narration at the cost of a hastily staged conclusion.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2711-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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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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