A rich chronicle, neither pious nor snide, that succeeds in humanizing a rare and much-maligned species of Americans for...



A family saga follows the fortunes of a clan of Scots merchants as they morph into pillars of New York society.

The waxing and waning of the old Yankee aristocracy has always provided Auchincloss (The Scarlet Letters, 2003, etc.) with a rich theme for endless variations. Here, he shows himself once again the master of his craft in sketching out the family tree of David Carnochan, who, in 1829, comes ashore at Manhattan Island. A canny farmboy with a Scottish nose for business and a Presbyterian taste for brimstone, the first of the New York Carnochans does a fair trade in textiles and amasses a fortune and nine children by the time of the Civil War (which he—like most New Yorkers—resents for its dampening of trade). The Carnochans appear mildly schizophrenic in the author’s telling: a gray corps of hardhearted shopkeepers regularly punctuated by mad, parti-colored dreamers like David’s son Andrew (an ardent abolitionist who becomes a Union officer and fell in battle) or his great-granddaughter Estelle (who runs off to Italy with her lover and dies languorously of tuberculosis). More typical are the ones who stay at home and do their duty, like Bruce (a pompous ass who manages to become a human being by having his heart broken and marrying on the rebound) or Gordon (whose fatal sense of duty makes him a ready doormat for every overbearing clod in town). There are also (farther down the family) the inevitable wastrels and ne’er-do-wells (like the spoiled philanderer Jaime) who are the family’s public shame and secret pride. And the family moves with the times more than you might expect, shedding its dour Calvinism a bit more with each generation, even intermarrying with Jews and other exotic New York fauna.

A rich chronicle, neither pious nor snide, that succeeds in humanizing a rare and much-maligned species of Americans for those who don’t come across them very much.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2004

ISBN: 0-618-45244-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2004

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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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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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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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