When the book’s set in Sydney, it’s good; when it shifts to other locales, it's less compelling.

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LOVE IN THE YEARS OF LUNACY

A willful Australian girl falls in love with a black soldier during World War II and battles to keep the relationship afloat in Sayer’s inconsistent historical romance (Dreamtime Alice, 1998, etc.).

A year after Pearl Willis dies, her nephew Jimmy discovers a cache of audio tapes she left for him. Much to his surprise, the tapes contain a detailed autobiography, a story that, as she tells him on the tape, she tried many times to write, but somehow couldn’t. Instead, she hopes that Jimmy, an author, will do the job for her. As he listens to each tape, Jimmy learns the true story of Pearl and her twin brother, Martin, both accomplished jazz musicians who play saxophone at a fancy club and sometimes sit in on gigs at an underground night club. It’s at one of these gigs that young Pearl meets James Washington, a black GI who’s recorded with some of the most famous jazz musicians of the era. The smitten couple is denied permission to wed, so they decide to run away together. But their plans are thwarted when James has second thoughts and is transferred to Queensland. Never fear, though. Pearl’s one determined Aussie who’s not about to let racism or war keep her from her man. Seizing opportunity, she shrugs off a botched suicide attempt and her reluctant engagement to the doctor who treated her and concocts a new plan to reunite with James, who’s now been transferred to a unit in New Guinea. Pearl should have stayed in Sydney and waited out the war for her hero’s return, since unfortunately, it’s at this point that the book begins a downward slide with repetitious action, naïve characters and ludicrous behaviors bogging down the core of the story until, blessedly, the book grinds its way to a predictable conclusion. By the end, it’s Pup the dog who deserves the most sympathy: She certainly wouldn’t be wagging her tail so much if she could see into her future.

When the book’s set in Sydney, it’s good; when it shifts to other locales, it's less compelling.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-7846-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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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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