Thoughtful if small in scale, the drama’s ambivalences and ambiguities remain almost too low-key to build readers’ interest...

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THE TASTE OF SALT

A master at portraying the hurdles faced by upwardly mobile African-Americans, Southgate (Third Girl from the Left, 2005, etc.) focuses her third novel on a marine biologist trying to escape her heritage.

Growing up in black working-class Cleveland, Josie and her younger brother Tick were raised to excel by their parents, a nurse and a factory worker with a highly sophisticated love of literature. Both kids received scholarships to attend private school, but by the time Josie began to study marine biology at Stanford, her father’s quiet alcoholism had destroyed her parents’ marriage. Although he’s been sober for years, Josie has never forgiven him. Now in her late 30s, she is wrapped up in her seemingly perfect life researching marine mammals at Woods Hole, where she lives with her gentle, loving scientist husband Daniel. When her mother asks her to return briefly to Cleveland to bring Tick home from the rehab center where he’s been in treatment, Josie obliges. But she avoids becoming involved in her brother’s recovery. Despite a dream job as a trainer for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tick fell prey to alcohol and cocaine addiction. His wife has given up and left him, but now that he’s clean again, the Cavaliers offer him a second chance. He moves in with his mother and begins to attend AA meetings. Back in Massachusetts, Josie walls herself off from her feelings for Tick and her parents, and also Daniel, who can’t help being white or loving Josie more than she allows herself to love him. Instead she falls into an affair with newly arrived researcher Ben, who happens to be the only other African-American at the lab. Then Tick turns up at her doorstep in desperate need. Declaring the novel is Josie’s narration, Southgate uses some creaky machinations to allow other points of view.

Thoughtful if small in scale, the drama’s ambivalences and ambiguities remain almost too low-key to build readers’ interest before the tragic if unsurprising climax.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-56512-925-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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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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