The novel, first issued via Twitter in blocks of slightly more than 100 characters, provides easy entertainment in book form.

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THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

The author's first novel lifts the misadventures and mishaps, ambition and artifice from the French Revolution and reproduces them in San Francisco, recalibrating the affair with a touch of post-modernism and more than a whiff of whimsy.

The story begins with Esmeralda Van Twinkle—once a celebrity pastry chef who ambition propelled into eating herself into a morbidly obese copy-shop employee—being seduced by a professional discount coupon distributor, Jasper Winslow. The aphrodisiac is “Zoogman's masterpiece,” a “triple chocolate truffle swirl cheesecake.” The assignation produces twins, Marat and Robespierre Van Twinkle, names bestowed because the boy and girl were born on Bastille Day. Assorted bizarre characters enter, leave and reappear across a narrative timeline, which extends into the future, where opposition to a war in Iran compels daughter Robespierre to enter San Francisco politics. There she will be undone in a race for mayor by a convoluted conspiracy, prompted by Marat's duplicities and with Jasper's sins as the catalyst. Readers might think the latter is a stretch, given what they've learned of humble Jasper. Every character, large or small, is exaggerated past eccentricity, a seemingly deliberate plot/narrative device. Esmeralda is never an especially sympathetic protagonist. Her children, her mother, Fanny, a sad tyrant trapped in a widow's cottage, the supporting cast of drug dealers, murderers and such generate no empathy either. But the characters are what they need to be to make the story viable. Chapters begin with short comments on the French Revolution, and history buffs can find allusions to the bloody quest for Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Best of all, Stewart's language sparkles, sometimes riffing like Bob Dylan, always moving the narrative forward. 

The novel, first issued via Twitter in blocks of slightly more than 100 characters, provides easy entertainment in book form.

Pub Date: July 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59376-283-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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