A thoughtful, entertaining look at the ties—music, community, family—that bind.

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CHAZZONOS

In this novel, a middle-aged Jewish cantor’s life changes after an unexpected inheritance gives him new freedom.

Many people daydream about what they’d do with a sudden windfall. For Hal Perlmutter, 53, the most exciting part is that he can quit his job as cantor in a New Jersey synagogue. (Chazzonos is Jewish liturgical music that is sung or chanted by a cantor, or chazzan.) He loves the powerful old music and preparing young people for their bar mitzvahs, but—as he sums up in a tour-de-force speech—it comes down to one thing: “I’m tired of bosses….I want to answer only to myself….No bosses. No judges.” But money can’t solve other problems, like a difficult relationship with his daughter or his son’s new boyfriend (fine) being 20 years older than him (not so fine). Then Mimi, Hal’s girlfriend, challenges him: If she’s going to drop her own career and follow his dream of owning a bed-and-breakfast in the Berkshires, she wants to be married. But Hal considers marriage to be a prison. As the cantor muses on the elegance, peace and transcendence of his favorite chazzonos, he must answer to himself and rebuild connections with those he loves. In his debut novel, Rockler—a cantor himself—beautifully evokes Hal’s deep response to music: the haunting melodies, the powerful voices, the joy of song. Anchoring all this is Hal’s continuing sense of connection to the Jewish past. As an elderly Seder participant remarks, “We Jews will always remember Egypt. But who will remember Warsaw?” Rockler is adept at sketching a variety of characters—Mimi, for example, is admirably her own woman. He also nicely shows the progress of Hal’s thoughts and feelings as he slowly acknowledges his role in creating family tensions. After Hal deals with his daughter’s health crisis and rapprochement begins, the book loses some energy in chasing down the red-tape details of Hal’s inheritance and the B&B purchase. The novel could also use a cleanup for some incorrect punctuation.

A thoughtful, entertaining look at the ties—music, community, family—that bind.

Pub Date: June 20, 2011

ISBN: 978-1462028634

Page Count: 276

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2015

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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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