Readers with an interest in the latest in literary experimentalism will thrill at Danielewski’s approach and clamor for the...

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INTO THE FOREST

From the The Familiar series , Vol. 2

A young girl quests for a cat. And no, it’s not Alice in Wonderland.

What is Danielewski’s (The Fifty Year Sword, 2012, etc.) latest about? Might as well ask what the Coriolis effect is about: the world spins, and air blows, and that’s the way it is, much as this oversized, overstuffed book spins and—well, furthers the story begun last spring with One Rainy Day in May. Pre-adolescent Xanther is brainy, confused, and petulant: “Mom, like I hate the supermarket?” “You do?” “Oh, uhm, I love hanging around stuff I can’t have?” Xanther, whose favorite typographic symbol is an often sarcastic but sometimes genuinely puzzled question mark, is also cat-crazy, and ailurophiliac moments abound. Cats and their kin are just some of the animals that pass through these pages. So do many human types, from LA gangsters to Asian yuppies to Turkish cops to homegrown geeks. Miley Cyrus, too, one of many figures and tropes from pop culture to turn up. Match a herky-jerky narrative and multiple protagonists with nested-parenthetical stream-of-consciousness to do Joyce proud, and you’re in tall postmodern cotton, and with literary and subliterary allusions to match, tucked away among the tangled storylines: “A single piece of paper inside, with a fiery orange paperclip holding nothing together, makes it clear Warlock is no Connelly or Nesbø.” All fine and well, though there’s some iffy syntax (“Xanther’s scream calls to life the house”) and some odd attempts at Chinglish and other dialects (“at entrance jingjing see he the damn pah chiao one”). But no worries, if you can make out clauses such as this: “sleeps the little one [like a little cloud {a blind little lamb <ever a question mark <<of a different king ((kind!))>> >}].”

Readers with an interest in the latest in literary experimentalism will thrill at Danielewski’s approach and clamor for the 25 volumes planned to follow in the Familiar series. Others, not so much.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-375-71496-2

Page Count: 816

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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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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