A LOVER'S ALMANAC

The attempt here—a novel as expansive as an almanac, with a bit of everything in it—raises Howard's latest sometimes to considerable heights but as often slows it to a crawl through lives and commentary not always interesting enough for the trip. Louise Moffett, b. 1968, comes to New York from Wisconsin to find her fortune as an artist, and in doing so becomes the lover (later the mate) of gifted ne'er-do-well Artie Freeman. We meet the two at a party on the last night of the 20th century—when Artie proposes but, due to extreme drunkenness, flubs the moment, offends Lou, finds himself exiled from her downtown loft—and retreats to his grandfather Cyril's Fifth Avenue apartment. Moving from winter solstice to spring equinox, Howard's novel follows the lovers as they mope, pine, and are reunited, while those same three winter months afford plenty of space to fill in family backgrounds. Lou's farmer-scientist father (a prof in animal husbandry) failed to understand his daughter's emerging art, her mother went underappreciated, and research scientist Aunt Bea provided a role-model of dedication to her calling. As for math whiz yet school-dropout Artie: His unmarried ex-hippie mother, now dead, never revealed who his father was, leaving Artie eternally in a paternity search; and his widowed grandfather, Cyril, after a Wall Street career, retreated into books of American history—emerging only to continue a romance begun 50 years earlier with Sylvie Neiswonger, who, at 12, fled the Nazis through a backyard in Austria after being raped by a German soldier. Throughout, Howard sprinkles bits of zodiacal lore, rhymes of planting advice, snippets of biographies (Edison, Haydn, Mendel) remarks about computers, electronics, the information glut—all symbolically converging in Lou's newest gallery show of family lore, trinkets, cast-offs, and (literally) broken hearts. A worthy gathering—sometimes Dos Passos, sometimes Faulkner, sometimes Howard—that would have offered greater pleasures, as almanac and otherwise, at, say, two thirds its length.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-87597-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1997

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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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