THE CELIBACY OF FELIX GREENSPAN

Rites-of-passage fiction with a difference, from poet and literary journalist Abrahams, who, like his protagonist, was born with cerebral palsy and is a Jewish South African. Consisting of 17 stories that often overlap, the novel is a low-key and rather flat record of Felix Greenspan's struggle to live a full physical and intellectual life. It begins with a hospital stay for four-year-old Felix, the only son of a middle- class family with few cultural interests, and ends as the now 38- year-old Felix is on the brink of a liberating sexual experience. Focusing more on the personal than on the political struggle, apartheid and South African politics are—not unexpectedly—muted presences, mere bit-players in some stories. Felix's childhood is spent in a home for the disabled, where he's bullied by the older boys, falls in love, and after varying treatments is finally able to walk rather than move round on his knees. A first tram-ride to town on his own means that ``giddily triumphant, he was making contact with real life on his own, a stranger among strangers.'' After a few bureaucratic setbacks and an encouraging encounter with an older writer, Felix makes his way to college, which, though filled with beautiful girls, is intellectually disappointing. He drops out, and continues to write while working for his father, but the focus of the remaining pieces is his struggle for sexual autonomy. He makes love to a former classmate, who soon leaves; and prostitutes—he visits Paris in his 20's—are inadequate substitutes. But when his relationship with a suicidal artist ends, he's cheered by a promising correspondence with a woman—the first who's wanted ``to have a really close communication'' with him. For all his suffering and pluck, Felix remains a shadowy and remote figure living out an idea, not a life. A disappointing debut.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 1993

ISBN: 0-89733-396-9

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Academy Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1993

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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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