Connect-the-dots predictable except for those occasional tasty morsels of nastiness.

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THE WIFE

Forty-five years of a bad marriage laid out in pat detail, by the author, most recently, of Surrender Dorothy (1999).

On the way to Helsinki, where her novelist husband Joe is to receive a major literary award, 64-year-old Joan Castleman relives their years together as she steels herself to tell Joe she’s leaving him. They met during her freshman year at Smith, where he was her English professor. All the girls were smitten by the young, darkly handsome Jew whose wife had just had his baby, but Joan was the one he noticed, both for her blond beauty (and impeccable debutante WASP credentials) and for her natural writing talent. Soon they began a torrid affair, dampened only slightly when she read a less than brilliant story he’d published. After his wife throws Joe out, Joan happily drops out of college to set up house with him in Greenwich Village, where she works as an editorial assistant to support them while he writes his first novel. The book, based on their affair, is a hit, launching his career. Having lost touch with his child from his first wife, Joe has been a less than involved father to the three he’s had with Joan: two daughters, one whose gayness seems completely gratuitous, and an emotionally troubled son who threatened his father one night (the vague, pulled-punches quality of that scene typifying the story as a whole). While Joe has always given Joan credit for helping him with his work, he’s also had frequent dalliances with other women (and, if Joan’s brittle narration is any clue, it might seem hard to blame him). Eventually, Joan drops the bomb: just as her kids always suspected, she wrote the books for which Joe took credit. After his fatal coronary, will she keep her secret to preserve his reputation?

Connect-the-dots predictable except for those occasional tasty morsels of nastiness.

Pub Date: April 14, 2003

ISBN: 0-684-86940-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2003

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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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