HOUSEKEEPING

Robinson's brooding first novel is perhaps fatally weighed down with excess myth-and-symbol pretensions, but it's often exhilaratingly imaginative—as narrator Ruth becomes a kind of spectral presence in the tale of her own childhood and early adolescence in a remote, flood-prone lakeside village in Idaho. The village is where Grandmother lives—the Grandmother who takes in little Ruth and sister Lucille when their mother abandons them, promises to return, then drives to her death in the lake: "She...broke the family and the sorrow was released...a thousand ways into the hills." But the family is held together for a while by Grandmother—whose husband also drowned in that lake when a fine fast train plunged off the bridge; whose three daughters all seemed to have flown off at one time; who cares for Ruth and Lucille well, as if "reliving a long day" with her own lamented daughters. And after Grandmother's death the girls are briefly tended by two aged, fearful relatives who gladly give them up to the care of Aunt Sylvie, one of Grandmother's missing daughters now miraculously returned. But Sylvie's a drifter attempting to housekeep—abstracted, gentle, given to wandering and eating meals in the dark—and Ruth is drawn to Sylvie's world of silences and quiet disappearances, with musings on the nature of loss when people perish and things remain: "The illusion of perimeters fails when families are separated." Lucille, on the other hand, maintains that "calm, horizontal look" of one who sees differences: she joins the "common persons" and leaves home. Finally, then, after Authorities plan to take Ruth away from her obviously unstable aunt, Ruth and Sylvie burn the house, hop the rails, and leave for a lifetime of wandering. A convoluted novel, obsessively striated with repetitive images of fluidity—flooding waters, blinking trains, the play of light and darkness, wisps of overheard tales—but if the poetry is over-stressed, the bottom-line talent in this highly promising debut is unmistakable.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 1980

ISBN: 978-0-374-17313-5

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1980

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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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