French’s sixth novel (My Summer with George, 1996, etc.) is filled with pointed insights about womanhood, but not many fully...

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IN THE NAME OF FRIENDSHIP

Four women parcel out ready-made feminist wisdom to one another, often over tea, in a bucolic New England setting.

Alicia, Maddy, Emily and Jenny form an insular society in an idyllic Massachussetts town. They’re from different generations, pursue different careers and come from different backgrounds, but they find emotional satisfaction in each other’s company. In the beginning, Maddy and Emily, a generation older than the other two, represent the wisdom and reassuring solidity that come from lives led to the fullest. Alicia and Jenny, younger by at least a generation, see in the two older women examples of how to succeed the hard way, admiring them for making independent choices and living on their own terms. For their part, Maddy and Emily see in Alicia and Jenny limitless possibilities for growth and success. The novel moves back and forth between the perspectives of the characters, gradually revealing that each woman, no matter how successful she seems to her friends, has made choices that diminished her. However, the story is nothing if not life-affirming, so no matter what happened to the women in their pasts—from losing contact with a beloved niece to putting artistic greatness on the back burner for the sake of a husband—each will help the other achieve a sense of closure. Paintings are painted, symphonies are performed, marriages are straightened out and families are mended, all with the loving support of a magical friendship circle. There are some bright moments, foremost the carefully drawn characters of Emily and Maddy, but there are many others in which the narrative is so eager to evaluate the benefits and the shortcomings of various strands of feminism that the story falls by the wayside. Jenny and Alicia seem in particular to be cardboard cutouts, and the author’s pedagogic aims trump her interest in fully developed characters and plots.

French’s sixth novel (My Summer with George, 1996, etc.) is filled with pointed insights about womanhood, but not many fully realized women.

Pub Date: July 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-55861-521-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Feminist Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2006

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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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