An affecting though overreaching first novel.



A misogynistic gynecologist disrupts the seemingly anodyne routine of a Finnish female sanatorium, unleashing sinister forces, in Chapman’s debut, a strained reinvention of a Greek tragedy.

Suvanto, a hospital nestled in the wilds of Finland, is a house divided. The first floor serves mostly local Finnish women, and has, by the 1920s, become the ideal laboratory for Dr. Peter Weber’s new surgical procedures for everything from Caesareans to hysterectomies, which he champions as a cure-all. The upper floor houses wealthier women who present a gamut of nebulous symptoms. There’s nothing really wrong with these “up-patients” except boredom, the dull, insensitive men in their lives and the encroachments of old age. Chief brat among the “ups” is Julia, practitioner and teacher of an oxymoronic dance form called “nordic tango.” (Her husband and she were barfly ballroom instructors.) The dissipated, world-weary Julia has been bundled into a cab and sent to Suvanto, presumably by her husband, who never apologized for giving her syphilis. The new arrival exasperates her well-meaning American nurse Sunny. Julia’s biting sarcasm soon has her fellow up-patients in her thrall: Her only match is Pearl, the Queen Bee, pampered, bejeweled wife of Dr. William Weber, Peter’s brother, who winters at Suvanto in order to take a rest cure from her marriage. Julia has supplanted Pearl’s chief courtier of last year, Mrs. Minder, whom Julia now mercilessly baits. William, hoping to restore Pearl’s joie de vivre, takes her on a train trip, and Peter accelerates obstetrics activity on the first floor, while searching for hysterectomy candidates (Julia tops the list) on the second. Sunny dreads Peter’s inroads: owing to her largely unelucidated past, she has a particular horror of pregnancy and infants. Chapman’s attempt to shoehorn the material into the framework of The Bacchae, Euripides’ ancient tragedy about hoards of ravening females, skews what promised to be a quieter but more compelling drama.

An affecting though overreaching first novel.

Pub Date: April 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-55597-553-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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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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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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