Strawberry-sweet, but not too syrupy.

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STRAWBERRY FIELDS

After a disastrous strawberry-picking season, Eastern European migrant workers take a road trip across “this other Eden…this earth, this realm, this England” in search of meaning, stability and perhaps even love.

The disaster of the strawberry season is amorous rather than agricultural, for Wendy Leaping has discovered that her husband, the owner of the strawberry fields, is having a torrid relationship with Yola, the tough crew boss. When the cops are called after Wendy runs over her husband in a bright red sports car, the workers scatter. Several take off in the trailer that had provided their accommodation during picking season. In their search for more work they encounter corrupt individuals—English, Polish and Ukrainian—who want to exploit their vulnerable status as “guest workers.” Handsome Andriy has become enamored of but separated from Irina, so he goes on a quest to find her. Along the way, his companion Tomasz finds work in a chicken factory (the ironically named “Buttercup Meadow Farmfresh Poultry”), and the novel makes a brief digression into naturalism as Lewycka (A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, 2005) does for chickens in England what Upton Sinclair did for cattle in Chicago. The narrative is polyvocal and includes points-of-view that shift fluidly from Irina to Emanuel (a Malawian worker who sends letters home to his sister) to the dog that tags along with the travelers (these sections all begin “I AM DOG”) to an engaged and sympathetic third-person voice that identifies closely with Andriy. Some of the comic energy of the novel emerges from the difficulties characters encounter with the language barrier. Irina, for example, tries to figure out “what on earth…was a Moldavian toy boy?” Andriy is driven not just by his desire to recover Irina but also by his own idealized vision of Sheffield (“a place of palaces and bougainvillea”).

Strawberry-sweet, but not too syrupy.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-59420-137-0

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2007

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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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