TRIPMASTER MONKEY

HIS FAKE BOOK

In The Warrior Woman (1976) and China Men (1980), Kingston approached the genius of the Chinese-American heritage in a robust blaze of mythic intuitions and shrewd, historical, autobiographical notation. Here, in her first novel, she swirls stories from myth and wild circumstance about the Sixties' soul-journey of a recent Berkeley grad of Chinese ancestry—as he pads about the S.F. environs on Steppenwolfian, jumpy paws, experiencing Vietnam-era Fear and Loathing, love and friendship, and the creative bangs and shudders of a poet. He'll finally bring to birth "an enormous loud play. . .that will make us [Chinese-Americans] braver. . ." On the way to reawakening the Chinese soul via the great show, Wittman Ah Sing, fired from a department store (something naughty went on in Toys), parties (sans drugs) with inventively seeking pals and strenuously experiencing LSD heads; falls in love ("she likes me, a heartbreaker and a rover"); gets married (sort of), but the two may not love; visits satisfyingly mad parents; confronts the Government at the Unemployment Office; and at last casts his theatrical epic with a cast of Wittman's everybody (after all, "it takes enormous populations to play out all the ways of being human"). Among the cast: a Japanese friend and his Young Millionairess; the wife Wittman may not love and the beautiful girl he may; mother Ruby and her showgirl pals who'll perform again their (WW II) War Bonds China Rescue act; "old futs"; PoPo, the luck-crowned deserted grandmother; and a cast of neighborhood thousands. At the first night close (the play is continuous, night after night) of story, music, and dance, Wittman—in a fiery monologue—blasts the "innocent" ones who won't recognize other Americans in their native land ("We need to take the hyphen out. . .'American' the noun and 'Chinese' the adjective"). There are some enchanting turns here (a boring girl becomes a "blue boar" in a twinkling—" the lips moved, the tusks flashed"); and throughout Kingston offers bright-bannered "talk stories" of heroes and monsters, the grand and gruesome. But trips inside the head of a heavy experiencer and fantasizer can create a static, claustrophobic climate. As for Wittman's ethnic-pride orations—right on! (though better said than read). Rather a dense, occasionally rewarding trip, which should ride comfortably on the excellence of Kingston's nonfiction.

Pub Date: April 27, 1989

ISBN: 0679727892

Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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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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