The writing is exact and assured, the story complex and rewarding. Fans of John Sayles’ film Matewan will find this a...

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HONEY FROM THE LION

Lyrical, quietly powerful debut novel from a young, prizewinning short story writer.

West Virginia native Null locates his century-plus–past yarn in the hollers and folds of Tuscarora County, “near the hinge of western Maryland,” where, as he memorably writes, “the natives—Seneca, Shawnee—had been wise enough to treat this as vague hunting ground, not a place to plant yourself.” That’s just so with the three New Yorkers ("the absentees," Null calls them) who wander in at the beginning of the tale, plant their figurative flag, and set about extracting what they can from country they will never see again—timber, mostly, but then coal and other resources. Their first fear is that the country will play out; when it doesn’t, their fears turn to the people who have, in fact, planted themselves there and are increasingly resentful of selling their birthrights for less than a mess of pottage. One, with the portentous name Cur Greathouse, the moral center of the story, spends his time sorting out how he and his kin can best pull a living out of the mountains in peace, knowing full well that “living in failure is easy”; his fellow timber man Amos Church has less neighborly designs on the one absentee who is in fact not absent but spends time in a town so new that there’s not a brick in view—a good safeguard, that absentee remarks, against having your head bashed in. Violence is commonplace in the timber camps and little towns of this ridge-and-bottomland country, and everyone’s a little worse for the wear, from the sawyers to the whores to the traveling peddlers and even the bosses. Against a backdrop of labor unrest and the growing destruction of the old-growth forest, Null weaves a morality play of many threads: who will betray whom and at what price?

The writing is exact and assured, the story complex and rewarding. Fans of John Sayles’ film Matewan will find this a kindred work and just as good.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-940596-08-2

Page Count: 364

Publisher: Lookout Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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