Visceral and demanding; an unsettling collection that knocks you off balance.

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THINGS TO MAKE AND BREAK

Everyone in Tan’s world is broken and searching for connection, though in the 11 haunting stories collected here, the results are rarely what they bargained for.

With the eerie precision of oversaturated snapshots, each of Tan’s stories captures a different moment of desperation—some otherworldly, others deceptively mundane. In “Legendary,” which opens the collection, a woman studies her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends, searching for herself in their strange, unspoken sisterhood. In “Date Night,” a little girl in Hong Kong spends the night with her Indonesian nanny—new to the country, thousands of miles from her own children—while her mother is out with a date. In “New Jersey,” a teenage girl feels betrayed when her best friend loses her virginity to a boy. Other stories are stranger and more violent: “Laurens” follows a boy-Lauren and a girl-Lauren living brutally parallel lives: “They know how to skin things. Their fathers are hunters. The summer their mothers suicided, the Laurens went to SeaWorld San Diego, where they occupied the same quadrant of the bleachers during the Shamu show.” Both their stories end with blood. In the viciously sad “DD-MM-YY,” twin brothers have been competing for the same girl for years, though her own memories of this are shaky: She’s brain-injured from a car accident. Formatted like a movie script and taking up nearly 50 pages, “Candy Glass” is perhaps the most quietly affecting story in the collection, and the loneliest, about a Hollywood actress who falls for her stunt double. “Maybe funhouse mirrors would be scarier if, instead of making you look bad, they made you look better,” the actress observes, watching her doppelgänger. There is a gentle hesitancy to their relationship; in the end, the stunt double—a trans woman—will leave her, choosing to start fresh. “I’ll stick a flag in my lawn and go to church every Sunday, and marry a man. I’ll be part of the superstructure,” she says. “I don’t know how useful love is, in the long run.”

Visceral and demanding; an unsettling collection that knocks you off balance.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-56689-527-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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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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