Dean’s acerbic affection for her characters and her social commentary are both spot-on and surprisingly poignant.

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THE OLD ROMANTIC

A dark yet sometimes rocking comedy from British social satirist Dean (The Idea of Love, 2009, etc.) about a posh British lawyer who has spent most of his life running away from his crude, working-class family.

His parents divorced after teenager Nick, already an intellectual golden boy embarrassed by his parents, ratted out his father Ken for adultery. Nick’s sweet-natured, less favored younger brother Dave went to live with Ken, while Nick stayed with their eccentric, angry mom Pearl before he escaped to university. More than 20 years later, Dave, who has remained the family mediator, talks Nick into a reunion with Ken. At 80, Ken has decided he will be dying soon and wants Nick’s help in divorcing his second wife June. By turns nasty and maudlin, Ken still infuriates Nick, but Nick is also feeling delayed guilt about his past behavior. On vacation with his live-in girlfriend, spa owner Astrid, Nick runs into a girlfriend he treated badly in his youth and faces what a snob he was even then. Mistakenly jealous and misreading Nick’s feelings, Astrid is afraid that Nick will decamp if her looks and youth continue to fade. He worries that he is not up to playing stepfather to Astrid’s troubled daughter Laura, to whom he has unexpectedly become devoted. Meanwhile, Ken’s infatuation with a kindly middle-aged funeral-home director leads him to an unexpected meeting with Pearl and the rekindling of passion, no less intense for being geriatric. Some scenes—like Ken’s trip with his sons to Wales in search of June, whom Ken (mistakenly) suspects has stolen his money—have a madcap energy reminiscent of Joyce Cary novels, while Nick and Astrid’s complicated duet shows how difficult it can be to achieve intimacy. The rural working-class British dialect may be difficult for American readers to comprehend, but the tartly sweet rewards are worth the challenge.

Dean’s acerbic affection for her characters and her social commentary are both spot-on and surprisingly poignant.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59448-779-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2010

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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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