Nearly flawless in its own unassuming way.

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THE MAINTENANCE OF HEADWAY

Set within the bureaucracy of the London bus system, Mills’ slim novel fuses whimsy with warped logic.

Bus drivers must remain committed to the Maintenance of Headway—“The notion that a fixed interval between buses on a regular service can be attained and adhered to”—even when it seems absurd. Consider a moment when the narrator’s bus is running early. What does he do? He disregards his current passengers and fakes engine problems. Another bus driver even stops to help him, and together, they stage an animated discussion and walk around the engine thoughtfully until a proper amount of time has passed. No real plot here—rather, a series of vignettes that demonstrate the kind of bureaucratic logic that’s warped because it’s so airtight yet so small-minded. Mills—who's been a bus driver himself—has written a fantastically odd novel, full of great details (a TV at the bus station that's been stuck on the same channel for four years) and walk-on characters (like Mrs. Barker, who creates chaos by stopping anywhere—including green traffic lights—to pick up passengers). Mills (Explorers of the New Century, 2005, etc.) avoids revealing anything personal about his characters: even his narrator lacks a life outside the all-consuming absurdity of his work. In a long novel, this might get tiresome, but Mills has written a slender book and made each sentence feel harried, peculiar. There’s bizarre logic: “The idea of curtailing bus journeys in order to provide a better bus service defied logic, but needless to say, the Board of Transport had a logic all of its own.” There’s bureaucratic pseudo-science: beyond the titular reference, there’s also the Theory of Early Running and the Law of Cumulative Lateness. It’s a comic complaint—whimsical, but pointed.

Nearly flawless in its own unassuming way.

Pub Date: May 19, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63286-036-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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