Johnson is asking hard questions about race in America but he’s using an awfully tame approach to work out the answers, at...

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LOVING DAY

A middle-aged failure struggles with his identity and masculinity when he’s forced to return home to Philly.

Johnson (Pym, 2011, etc.) digs autobiographically deep for this tragicomic novel about grudgingly returning to one’s roots. Our narrator is Warren Duffy, whose complex back story lends credence to his character. He’s a failed comic-book artist suffering from the triple whammy of a fresh divorce from his Welsh wife, losing his comic-book store in Cardiff, and his father’s death. Returning to his family’s palatial home in urban Philadelphia, Warren finds his old neighborhood has long gone to seed. He’s very conflicted as the light-skinned son of a black mother and an Irish father who long ago fled his racially charged hometown. Fate can’t resist kicking home once again when Warren discovers that he has a daughter, Tal, from an empty high school liaison with a local Jewish girl who's long since dead. The reluctant father warily takes in his daughter and stumbles across a local school called The Mélange Center, which devotes itself exclusively to supporting multiracial students. There, he discovers that others see him as a “sunflower”: “yellow on the outside, brown on the inside. A slang term for a biracial person who denies their mixed nature, only recognizing their black identity.” As a narrator, Warren is complicated and articulate, but readers may struggle to identify with his multifarious quarrels with the neighborhood locals, his aggressive yearning for one of Tal’s teachers, and the perpetual tightrope he believes he walks between the black and white worlds. The author is clearly interested in what it means to be biracial in America and whether it's better to identify publicly as white, black, or biracial. But he does the heavy lifting on the writing side, too, consummating his story with an absurd but comic conflagration on the occasion of “Loving Day,” a real but little-known celebration of the day the Supreme Court struck down all laws criminalizing interracial marriage.

Johnson is asking hard questions about race in America but he’s using an awfully tame approach to work out the answers, at least this go-round.

Pub Date: May 26, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9345-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2015

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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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