Regrettable proof that love of language isn’t enough all by itself.

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THE EDUCATION OF ARNOLD HITLER

Dreary, unfocused tale of a part-Jewish Texas high-school football player named Hitler.

Second-novelist Estrin (Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa, 2001) gives himself a heavy burden here by naming his protagonist Arnold Hitler, a burden that his light and fanciful prose has a difficult time bearing. The conceit is that an American soldier with the infamous last name serving in WWII accidentally wounds, rescues and ultimately marries a gorgeous half-Jewish Italian woman and brings her back to his home state of Texas, where they raise a son. Arnold grows up to be somewhat of a wonder, a prodigy in search of a vocation. He’s a chess whiz at the age of six, a star on the football field and publisher of a surprisingly widely read high-school newsletter on linguistic matters. The strikingly handsome Arnold gets his heart broken by a girl who goes away to Oberlin and becomes a radical feminist. He leaves Texas not long after for Harvard and an education in politics. Estrin at times seems to want Arnold to be his innocent traveling through history, growing up in a harshly racist town during the 1950s desegregation turmoil and then attending Harvard at the height of the Vietnam anti-war movement, all in the interest of educating him in the ways of the world—or words, in the case of the linguistically obsessed Arnold. But while the narrative’s sense of fancy takes it quite a ways (you don’t really notice that there’s no plot until about two hundred pages in), it can’t quite take this story to the finish line. Well before its conclusion, Arnold’s journey gets lost in a murk of semantic rhetoric and too much ado about very little that makes the author’s choice of a last name seem more of a gag than anything else. Even cameos by the likes of Leonard Bernstein and Noam Chomsky can’t quite bring this Candide home.

Regrettable proof that love of language isn’t enough all by itself.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-932961-03-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Unbridled Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

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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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