An impressively written tale that’s layered with intrigue.

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THE FIREBALL BROTHERS

In Hornbuckle’s (The Salvation of Billy Wayne Carter, 2010, etc.) latest novel, two brothers become inexplicably fused together.

Fifteen-year-old Robert and 13-year-old Wally Mackintosh are brothers who live on their parents’ farm in Alabama near the Mississippi line. One afternoon in early June 1959, the two boys head to a pond, not far from the farmhouse, to cool off after a hot morning. Soon after diving into the pool, the two boys smell an unusual, sulfurous odor, then hear a whistling sound coming from above. Wally clutches Robert in fear, and Robert swims frantically to the pool’s edge with his brother on his back. A fireball falls out of the sky and splashes down in the opposite end of the pond. The water heats up “faster than when a kettle is poured into the bath,” and the boys, after dragging themselves out, discover that they have become physically connected: “Wally’s left hand, forearm, and shoulder were stuck to Robert in an embrace from behind.” An examination by Dr. Stanhope, the local physician, suggests that they won’t be able to be separated easily, and this is confirmed at the hospital after X-rays show that the fusion is “more than just skin deep” and features abnormalities that doctors can’t explain. Military personnel arrive and begin conducting tests, and newspaper reporter Munford Coldwater takes a personal interest in the family. Meanwhile, the boys must come to terms with their new lives while searching for a way to break free. Near the opening of this novel, Hornbuckle embeds the story in a specific time in American history, referring to 1959’s Communist paranoia, Elvis-mania, and the progress of the civil rights movement in a laconic line: “it had been a summer of reds and a summer of blues and a summer of blacks.” This phrase also subtly and powerfully hints at the opposing forces that shape the novel’s overarching narrative—a fear of otherness and a love of music. Unable to engage in farm work, Wally, a keen fiddle player, teaches his nonmusical brother to play, and the family takes to the road as mendicant musicians. Hornbuckle’s description of the learning process is both tender and unsettling: “[Robert] could feel the hand on his chest, Wally’s fingering hand, itching to form into the correct positions, unable to curve…he could even sense which finger Wally wanted to use on the fingerboard, and this helped him sometimes find the spot.” Indeed, he’s an alarmingly talented writer who’s able to vividly communicate the wide spectrum of sensations and emotions—from intimacy to awkwardness to sheer frustration—that spring from the boys’ situation. He also seemingly effortlessly captures the atmosphere, pace, and cuisine of the American South and shows an acute understanding of the political mood, resulting in an engrossing novel. Readers who prefer stories that tie up every loose end in the denouement will be left wanting more—but otherwise, they’ll find this one to be a rare and peculiar gem.

An impressively written tale that’s layered with intrigue.

Pub Date: April 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60489-228-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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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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