TWO GIRLS, FAT AND THIN

After the flashy debut of her story collection, Bad Behavior, Gaitskill's first novel seems downright demure. Despite its disturbing scene of S-M, it's mostly a thoughtful and eloquent psychological profile of two strangely connected lives. What draws the two girls of the title together is the popular philosopher Anna Granite (a thinly disguised version of Ayn Rand). Justine Shade, a pretty and slender part-time secretary, also writes for a Village Voice-like tabloid; her investigation into the dying cult of Granite brings her into contact with Dorothy Storm (nÇe Footie), an obese Wall St. word-processor who changed her life for the better when she dropped out of college and became part of Granite's inner circle. The long middle section of the novel, acutely observed forays into the two women's pasts, reveals their oddly parallel lives. Despite dramatic differences in class and family life, both women have been victimized: Dorothy by her sexually abusive father, and Justine by her emotionally damaging parents—cool and distant, and oh-so liberal-minded. Both imaginative, articulate, and literate girls, they find themselves outsiders among their peers: one shunned for her apparent physical difference; the other appalled by the cruelty and betrayal that young people are given to. If Dorothy punishes herself by eating her way into oblivion, Justine begins to discover kinky sexuality: first, through masturbatory fantasies of torture, and then by acting out some bizarre adolescent rites. As adults, Justine continues to subject herself to violent, degrading sex, while Dorothy has found psychic liberation through the erotically charged ideas of Granite, who teaches her how life can matter if we decide to make it matter, and other such "definitist" nostrums. Meanwhile, Justine publishes her smart and cynical article, which properly debunks the pseudo-philosophy of Granite, and betrays the oft-abused Dorothy. But the latter's rage subsides when she becomes the very screwed-up Justine's literal savior. Gaitskill fully understands the psycho-dynamics of being a misfit, and hence the appeal of such as Rand. But her fine and disturbing novel is also a stunning work of the imagination—genuine and luminous.

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 1991

ISBN: 671-68540-6

Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

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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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