Tillman is as piquant and provocative as ever.

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AMERICAN GENIUS

A COMEDY

A self-involved, intentionally run-on and cleverly compelling novel about nothing and everything by the versatile experimentalist Tillman (This Is Not It, 2002, etc.).

The narrator of this curious work, both tedious and engaging, has taken up living in a kind of New England retreat or institution (she notes that she arrived “in a voluntary manner, but wearily, as I had little hope”), where she inhabits her own room, shares pleasant living spaces, and takes her meals in a dining hall. She offers many facts about her life, and a bit of childhood history, e.g., her mother is old and brain-damaged; her now-deceased father was once in the textile business (hence her preoccupation with fabrics); and her older brother has “disappeared” from her life. She also cherishes her pets and tends to keep her distance from the other residents—grumpy, eccentric types she renames according to her mood, such as Contesa, a brown-skinned social worker obsessed with Franz Kafka, and the so-called demanding man whose complaints are interminable. Time is “shapeless” at the institution, delineated by mealtimes, and the narrator spends it reading and observing and attending lectures. Aside from long, engrossing digressions on the development of fabrics, the history of the chair, the incarcerated Charles Manson groupie Leslie Van Houten and many other subjects, the narrator maintains one insistent train of thought, involving her sanguine Polish beautician. Indeed, the narrator is fascinated by skin, namely her “sensitive skin,” which is too thin to shield her from the harshness of the greater world. Skin ailments offer clues to mortality, and the narrator becomes a keen “reader of skin.” A séance directed by a resident she calls the Magician closes her sojourn; and feeling at the “end of her rope,” she returns to her home and retrieves her cat from her mother’s care. Has she been transformed? Probably not, but it’s a circuitous, riveting journey.

Tillman is as piquant and provocative as ever.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2006

ISBN: 1-933368-44-6

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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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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