Manilla’s compulsive embellishment can be wearying, and her ending verges on treacle, which is surprising after what has...

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THE PATRON SAINT OF UGLY

Mermaids, maps, amulets and machismo all figure in this tall, busy tale about a girl’s coming-of-age amid plain and improbable family lore.

Manilla’s (Shrapnel, 2012, etc.) second novel features the sassy voice of Garnet Ferrari as she responds irreverently to a Vatican emissary’s questions about the origins of miraculous powers she denies having. Born covered with port-wine stains shaped like atlas cutouts, she seems to heal the skin problems of others. Flashbacks to her early life in the 1950s reveal a range of cruelties, from others shunning or mocking her to the favoring of her smart, beautiful brother and the bullying swagger of her uncle. The past also holds love and pain elsewhere in the family, especially an ill-fated triangle with roots in Sicily and thorny branches in the Ferraris’ U.S. home of Sweetwater, W.Va. Manilla plays with different shades of poverty and wealth as Garnet makes a Dickensian journey from low-income housing to a hilltop mansion. The transition includes visits and extravagance from her maternal grandmother, a rich Virginian with Mayflower antecedents. Her paternal counterpart is Nonna Diamante, long-suffering survivor of a bad marriage who melds Catholic faith and belief in malocchio (the evil eye). She’s a colorful soul and a frequent commentator whose accented English phrasings recall—cutely, then cloyingly—those of Chico Marx. There’s even an environmental lesson about clean water running through all this, a real issue in mining-scarred West Virginia. The narrative variety—from saintly myth to Twain-ian stretcher, shifting speakers, newspaper clippings, a 60 Minutes transcript and two pages covered with the letter Z—brings to mind another unusual autobiography, Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.

Manilla’s compulsive embellishment can be wearying, and her ending verges on treacle, which is surprising after what has been at heart a cleareyed, touching fable of a girl learning the hard truths about herself and others.

Pub Date: June 17, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-14624-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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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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