Sort of tough women doing really tough stuff in a marshmallow sort of a story.

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THE REAL MINERVA

Second-novelist Sharratt (Summit Avenue, 2000) celebrates female grit as her three spirited protagonists challenge with courage—and a little firepower—the men and the society that wronged them.

The setting is 1920s Minnesota, where the characters are as shadeless as the prairies that stretch to the horizon beyond the small town of Minerva. Thirty-year-old Barbara Niebeck keeps house for the Hammond family, and she’s taken her 15-year-old daughter Penny out of school to help with the work. Bright and ambitious Penny resents being deprived of an education almost as much as she does her mother’s affair with Mr. Hammond, whose wife has been in a coma for four years. (Barbara has never told Penny that her grandfather is also her dad and tried to drown her at birth, so she doesn’t understand what her mother is up against.) When Barbara slaps Penny for criticizing her behavior, the girl runs away. Seeing an advertisement for a hired hand, Penny heads out to the Maagdenburgh farm to find the owner hemorrhaging badly after childbirth. She calls a doctor, cleans up the baby, and soon learns that Cora, a former socialite who dresses up as a man, has fled an abusive marriage and is terrified that husband Adam will come for her. Inspired by her new employer, Penny studies to become a nurse, cares for baby Phoebe, helps around the house, and learns to handle a gun. When Adam shows up, she acts to protect Cora, who then decides to flee to Mexico. Barbara is also in trouble, wounded by Hammond’s deranged daughter Irene, who also shoots her father. But this is a story about survival, so the three women must be tough and resilient enough to move on. Shucking off their notoriety, they head for new destinations where more manageable challenges await them.

Sort of tough women doing really tough stuff in a marshmallow sort of a story.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2004

ISBN: 0-618-46232-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2004

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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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