Wolff’s book is smart, funny, and sad in turns, but the point it’s making—and it seems to be trying very hard to make a...

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THE POLYGLOT LOVERS

A burned manuscript occasions these tales from three distinct characters.

“You’ve never seen anyone,” Max’s ex-wife tells him. “You’ve only seen yourself, and the women you’ve had have only been mirrors in which you saw your own reflection.” This insight arrives near the end of Swedish author Wolff’s (Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs, 2016) second novel. It’s a strange, disjointed book. After Max completes a manuscript (which bears the same title as Wolff’s), he entrusts the only copy to literary critic Ruben, who has devoted his life to the study of Max’s work. But that turns out to be a risky place; Ellinor, a woman who met Ruben online and then moved into his house, finds the manuscript and lights it on fire. Lest this all sound too straightforward, keep in mind that the plot is told backward and, as it were, from the side: The novel is split into three sections, narrated by three different characters in reverse chronological order. It begins with Ellinor’s description of her own sexual history and continues in the second section with Max—a hateful character straight out of a Michel Houellebecq novel. In fact, Wolff seems to be parodying Houellebecq, or at least hanging him out to dry. But in an abrupt shift of mood and tone, the novel’s third section leaves Stockholm for Italy, and this is where the novel is at its most vivid. Lucrezia narrates here: Granddaughter of Rome’s very last marchesa, Lucrezia is responsible for her family’s crumbling estate—the place, as it happens, where Max wrote his ill-fated manuscript. Lucrezia describes the circumstances in which he wrote it. Whether any of this comes together in the end is anyone’s guess. Wolff’s prose is whip-smart and deliciously cynical about Max, Michel Houellebecq, and men like them—but you still have to spend a lot of time in their company.

Wolff’s book is smart, funny, and sad in turns, but the point it’s making—and it seems to be trying very hard to make a point—isn’t always in view.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-911508-44-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: & Other Stories

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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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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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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