Telling stories about a privileged world, Auchincloss doesn’t belie the intellectual and material luxuriousness his...




A dry martini of a collection from an author who, in his 57th book, voices his characters with a precision and care almost unheard of in a sloppy age.

While the stories here span the better part of the 20th century, they nevertheless hew to Auchincloss’s familiar aristocratic settings (Her Infinite Variety, 2000, etc.), generally New York’s Knickerbocker elite. “All That May Become a Man” is set in the Vollard clan, who for the most part occupy themselves with living lives—on the hunt or in war—of a dangerousness that would almost make Teddy Roosevelt quake. The narrator, who disappoints his father by avoiding service in WWI, is the sole man of the family without an adventurous spirit. Years later, his mother tells him to have the courage simply to admit that he was afraid to die, and refuses to let him off the hook: “No one is born fearless. Your father made himself a hero by grit and will power. And don’t you ever dare to take it from him!” “The Marriage Broker” manages to tell a story of arranged marriage amid the wealthy classes without resorting to the commonplace moral dilemmas. A somewhat more modern piece, “The Justice Clerk,” is a recounting of a man’s journey from being an enthusiastic clerk for a Supreme Court justice during the New Deal to being a man disgusted with both the right (the justice) and the left (his Stalinist wife); he determines to “lose myself in the blessed impersonality of taxes.” Praiseworthy in so delectable a volume are its wit and economy, but equally deserving of mention is Auchincloss’s approachability. While his characters dwell in the upper latitudes of wealth and breeding, he doesn’t give readers entry to this world in a voyeuristic fashion, so there’s little in the way of breathless recountings of fabulous parties, dinners, and journeys.

Telling stories about a privileged world, Auchincloss doesn’t belie the intellectual and material luxuriousness his characters live in, but neither does he ever stoop to revel in them.

Pub Date: July 10, 2002

ISBN: 0-618-15289-X

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2002

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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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