More of a mood piece than a novel.

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FLOWER CHILDREN

Hippies’ offspring turn out to be as anxious and confused as regular kids.

Swann opens with an idyllic portrait of four children running free in rural Pennsylvania: “They spend their whole lives in trees . . . they discover locust shells, treefrogs, a gypsy moth’s cocoon.” Their idealistic parents intend to create a new world “in which nothing is lied about . . . [or] concealed,” but soon their father has moved out, their mother has a new boyfriend and the kids are attending school, where “they’re mortified by what they know and have seen.” (Most grade-schoolers have not heard their father describe the differences between the way their mother and other women make love.) The narration shifts from rapturous third person to the voice of Maeve, who chronicles the next five years with older sister Lu and younger brothers Tuck and Clyde as they negotiate the minefields laid by their parents’ bohemian ways. Their talkative, feckless father gets most of the attention; in the best and funniest chapter, “Intervention,” we learn that Dad’s parents and siblings are as odd as he is. Their mother’s mother, by contrast, is conventional and censorious; at her house, the children are embarrassed by their mother’s earnestness and unconventional clothes. “Secret” examines Lu’s and Maeve’s relationships with other kids at school, including two brothers, big-city transplants rumored to have moved to Pennsylvania due to trouble back home. Though Maeve kisses the older boy a few times, class trumps ideals; she and Lu are sent to a better school to prepare for college, while the Kalowski brothers fall into petty crime. It’s hard to discern what readers are meant to take away from this parade of disjointed chapters that reads more like a story collection than a novel. Swann’s prose is as lovely as ever, but her insights here are less penetrating, her portrait of a hippie childhood vaguer than the razor-sharp specificity with which she delineated adolescence in Serious Girls (2003).

More of a mood piece than a novel.

Pub Date: May 10, 2007

ISBN: 1-59448-945-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2007

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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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