Biting prose in need of a worthier target.

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YOU WERE WRONG

An introvert confronts the odd behavior of various family members to preserve his home and sense of self.

Sharpe’s previous novel, Jamestown (2007), was a broad, raucous tale that satirized the mythology surrounding America’s first settlers. This slim follow-up, by contrast, couldn’t be more interior and domestic, though his arch humor and out-of-left-field plot turns remain intact. The hero, Karl Floor, is a milquetoast high-school math teacher from Long Island who, we learn in the first chapter, is so socially inept that two of his students feel free to beat him up after class. At home he discovers Sylvia Vetch, an attractive young woman who’s arrived to rob the place. Despite her criminality, Karl is so drawn to her that he lets her take him to a party where he suffers the taunts of her alpha-male friends. Making his escape, he returns home to fight with his stepfather, Larchmont, culminating in Karl’s smashing his head with a pool cue. Larchmont absorbs his near-death experience with surprisingly good humor, after which Sylvia returns to announce that she’s actually Larchmont’s daughter and Karl’s half-sister, and—actually, plot summary only goes so far in characterizing Sharpe’s earnest but willfully absurd and deeply frustrating novel. Karl is a kind of existentialist archetype, batted around by all manner of social forces—race, class, family, romantic relationships—but his acting out with a pool cue makes him an unsympathetic hero in the face of those challenges. Because Sharpe is disinterested in penetrating Karl’s psyche (or anybody else’s) very deeply, the novel is mainly defined by how it jumps from ridiculous plot point to plot point—the various threads, involving blackmail, the ownership of the Floor family home and Karl’s capacity to love, all eventually resolve, but not particularly satisfyingly. In Jamestown, the arrogance and violence of colonialism was fair game for Sharpe’s attitude; affecting the same tone here means he’s cracking wise about broken homes and immature loners, which feels like small-game hunting. The abstracted plotting only further distances the reader.

Biting prose in need of a worthier target.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-60819-187-1

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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