A bit too much, yet not enough.

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GENEALOGY

The author of The Shape of Things to Come (2001) returns with her second novel.

Samantha Hennart is a poet who no longer writes poetry. It’s been at least 20 years since she has composed a line, and she’s not much of a wife or mother, either, and, when she falls to the kitchen floor as an aneurysm explodes in her brain, her family is scattered. Her husband, Bernard, left when he found her having sex with the “hippy carpenter” hired to renovate their bathroom. Her 25-year-old son, Ryan, is across the country in California and relieved to have finally separated himself from his dysfunctional family. And her daughter, Marguerite, 18, is—unbeknownst to anyone—in a mental hospital. This is the story of their history before Sam’s aneurysm and the collective fate that awaits them after it. Casey’s debut was widely praised as ambitious and accomplished. Her second feels self-consciously literary. Every page is filled with lyrical turns that don’t quite convince. The author pushes her characters to dazzle and charm. In one early scene, Sam doesn’t just call her family to dinner, she proclaims, “No more drifting in and out. No more eating in front of the television. No more blah, blah, blah, fuzzy around the edges.” Marguerite—who is named for a medieval mystic—is mesmerized by her brother’s nose, which is not just his nose but his “miraculous nose.” Bernard describes his wife’s forehead as “revelatory”—repeatedly. Indeed, this is a family given to erudite in-jokes and well-worn epithets, but what, exactly, does Sam’s forehead reveal? The fact that we are left without a clue means either that the reader is not worthy of joining the Hennart clique or that Bernard’s rhapsodizing is empty of actual meaning, just as the characters in this novel are not actual people but a series of pretentious poses and ostentatious tics.

A bit too much, yet not enough.

Pub Date: May 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074089-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2006

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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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