What Gordon sometimes lacks in subtlety is often made up for by the passion and energy of a questioning mind made all the...

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THE LIAR'S WIFE

FOUR NOVELLAS

Fans of the author will welcome these four novellas for their familiar themes and rich characters.

Gordon (The Love of My Youth, 2011, etc.) visits familiar territory from her 36 years of fiction, criticism and memoirs: faith sustained or lost, father figures and mentors, unreliable lovers and the power that two people exert or inflict on each other. For this collection, the pull of the past figures prominently. A former student of Simone Weil meets the French philosopher in New York in 1942 and is confused to encounter a brilliant intellect now imbued with mysticism and life-saving schemes and questions her own choice of family over career. In Fine Arts, a graduate student eases her path to scholarly achievement by sleeping with her married mentor. After he breaks it off, she discovers the beauty in her chosen artist’s work in Lucca, Italy, and acquires a fairy-tale benefactor. A 90-year-old man remembers himself as a callow high schooler in Gary, Indiana, chosen to introduce Thomas Mann at a lecture in 1939 and learning about imported cheese, literature and Nazi atrocities. In the title story, the best of these novellas, a wealthy elderly woman is visited in New Canaan, Connecticut, by the husband she ran from 50 years earlier. It begins with the nicely drawn fear and vulnerability aroused by a strange truck parked near her house. It’s the old beau’s van, and his surprise visit sparks memories of a time when love took her with him to his crowd in Ireland. There, his small lies led to a bigger one, amid other things that weren’t what they seemed. In retrospect, though, she wonders what she lost by fleeing home to safety and certainty.

What Gordon sometimes lacks in subtlety is often made up for by the passion and energy of a questioning mind made all the more vital as she ages with her characters.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-307-37743-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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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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