Meticulous and graceful, though some may find the allusions, dense sentences, and sometimes-opaque narrative a touch...

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THE SILVER SCREEN

A woman renounces a promising film career to raise two children, their life journeys weaving a gossamer tale of transitions and death.

Isabel Maher Murphy seems on the verge of movie stardom as Hollywood is turning from silent to talking pictures. Her screen test for Louis B. Mayer apparently pleased the “suits” of that time at M-G-M, but Archer chooses to walk off the set and return to her home in Rhode Island and marriage to an enterprising insurance salesman who could have walked off the streets of Sinclair Lewis’s Zenith. Like Garbo, Isabel, now Bel, never fully articulates her reasons for leaving Hollywood. Nor does author Howard offer full explanations in this third installment of a planned four-novel series (Big as Life, 2001; A Lover’s Almanac, 1998). Rather, with some sense of mystery, she spins out Bel’s life story, and the life stories of her daughter, Rita; her son, Joe, a Jesuit priest; and of a curious, young neighbor, Gemma Riccardi. Like silent film itself, the tales are told from alternating points of view (not always meaningfully “edited” together) and are highlighted by haunting, powerful images. Joe’s mission leads him to the violence of El Salvador, while chubby Rita faces the violence of the Mob through her marriage to a gangster. Gemma, a photographer seeking to imprint on her work a singular style, petitions Bel with questions: Why did she leave Hollywood? Was raising a family in a small coastal town more rewarding than acting? Bel’s answers appear encoded in moments she shares with her children, as when she delights in the role of a declaiming guide during their visit to a Melville museum. Bel’s life—and the lives of her children, reaching melancholy ends—unreel in what may have been her favorite film.

Meticulous and graceful, though some may find the allusions, dense sentences, and sometimes-opaque narrative a touch rarefied.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2004

ISBN: 0-670-03358-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2004

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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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