A finely wrought if somewhat melancholy first novel.

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MIGRATORY ANIMALS

A group of brainy friends in Austin, Texas, struggles with the complications of adulthood in hard times.

"Lying in bed, Flannery wished love wasn't so hard on a person." The reader wishes it too after sharing the troubles of the young climate scientist and her friends in this debut novel. As the story begins, Flannery is leaving her adored Nigerian boyfriend and life in Africa behind because her project has been shut down for lack of funding. Back home in Austin, she finds more to worry about. Among her tight-knit circle, most of whom met at a small engineering college with designs on being the "Harvard of the South," little is going right. Her sister, Molly, is beginning to show signs of the Huntington's disease that killed their mom and is alienated from her husband, Brandon. Molly moves out to the ranch where their friend Alyce has a fellowship to pursue her weaving; Alyce is suffering from a depression so severe that she's asked her architect husband, Harry, to take their boys and leave the ranch. Harry and the kids move in with his business partner, Santiago, who's hiding the fact that the economic recession has driven their firm to the brink of ruin and is also nurturing a hopeless attachment to Flannery. In addition to, or because of, their current problems, the characters suffer from painful nostalgia for their carefree college days. Into this tapestry, Specht weaves fascinating details on snowflakes, weaving, birding, genetics and engineering, plus a spot-on portrait of Austin: "Tonight they walked past the bungalow with its garden lined with bowling balls; they walked past the purple A-frame housing a nonprofit shelter for gay youth, past the corner lot where a man lived inside a small historic church he'd had transported from East Texas."  

A finely wrought if somewhat melancholy first novel.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-234603-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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