So eccentric, long-winded, and overblown, it's almost endearing.



A saint in the kitchen: the legend of a culinary genius recounted by her most devoted disciple.

“Every day I get something from what my love made of me, and if I can live my life on good terms with myself it’s only because my exclusive, absolute, imperishable love transformed the boy I was, conventionally eager to succeed, ordinary, pragmatic, into a young man capable of marveling and sacrificing.” To present the story of a renowned restaurateur known only as the Cheffe, NDiaye (Ladivine, 2016, etc.) has created a uniquely unreliable (and unnamed) narrator, the chef’s former apprentice and No. 1 fan, now living in boozy retirement on the Spanish Mediterranean. In his hands, the life of the Cheffe is a hagiographic fairy tale, complete with an ugly witch—the Cheffe’s daughter, whom the narrator is still furiously fighting for favor even long after his mentor’s death. “I have my own opinion, you’ve met her, you’ve seen that unpleasant, sterile woman, arrogant and vain and now trying to peddle specious anecdotes about the Cheffe to the whole wide world.” The preferred version of the story—the narrator’s version—begins once upon a time in the village of Sainte-Bazeille, where a sweet little girl was born to destitute farm laborers. They put her to work in the fields, then sent her away as a teenager to work for some wealthy weirdos in a neighboring town. Obsessed with food, the Clapeaus install the girl in their kitchen, where she discovers her vocation: “Now, moved and joyous, she realized her body was made up of many little animals who’d learned to work flawlessly all on their own, and who, that afternoon, happy, modest, at once obediently and quietly enterprising, showed her all their savoir faire, working as a tight-knit team that in a sense excluded the Cheffe for her own good.” My, my. The mice and bluebirds that sewed Cinderella’s ball gown take a backseat to these industrious creatures. What specious anecdotes could that awful daughter possibly come up with to match these?

So eccentric, long-winded, and overblown, it's almost endearing.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-52047-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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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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