De Moor's book fails to provide easy answers or pat conclusions, but of course life is like that, too. Like the widow, we...

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SLEEPLESS NIGHT

During a bout of insomnia, a young widow ruminates on her husband’s suicide. While a Bundt cake bakes in the oven and the house is silent, she scrutinizes the past for telling details, the moment on which everything hangs.

Compact, haunting, and lovely, the story takes place over the course of one long night interspersed with flashbacks to the unnamed narrator’s young adulthood. She recalls meeting her husband, Ton, as college students in the late 1960s and their fall through winter ice while skating on frozen canals. We learn of their brief marriage, as they establish themselves as a couple on Ton’s inherited family farm. Dutch author de Moor (The Kreutzer Sonata, 2014, etc.) was a classical singer and pianist before becoming a writer, and even in translation, her prose retains a balanced, musical quality. Descriptions of places and people are evocative, but de Moor also renders more abstract concepts—such as what it’s like to be alone and wide awake in the middle of the night—with razor-sharp specificity: “The fever of sleeplessness drives people to do the strangest things. They whisper poems that appear in mirror-writing behind their eyes, weigh grains of rice on imaginary scales, picture themselves lying on a bed of red velvet.” Despite the novel’s short length, it is unhurried and assured; no word is wasted even as de Moor spends paragraphs recounting often slow and mundane processes, like mixing eggs and milk and yeast to make dough. Yet there is vitality in the chores, too, as when the dough is later kneaded, when the widow begins “slamming my fists into the pale, pliant lump in front of me.” In both its rich and unapologetic descriptions of domesticity and frank attitude toward sex (as the widow’s cake bakes, her latest lover lies asleep upstairs), the book is a treatise on one individual’s womanhood.

De Moor's book fails to provide easy answers or pat conclusions, but of course life is like that, too. Like the widow, we must all learn to tolerate that which is ambiguous, unexplained, incomplete.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-939931-69-6

Page Count: 122

Publisher: New Vessel Press

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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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