An uneven book that struggles with its own fragmentation but occasionally offers striking reflections on the strange...

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SILENCE AND SONG

Thon (The Voice of the River, 2011, etc.) explores various forms of grief and trauma in a book with an unusual structure.

The first section of Thon’s book darts back and forth between several fragmented narratives ostensibly connected by a woman’s musings on loss and a shared setting of the Sonoran Desert. Deaths in a family, beginning with a tragic car accident, cripple its members with a claustrophobic, muffling sorrow. South American immigrants trudge across the harsh but extraordinary landscape, suffering terrible deaths from lack of water and welcome. A virtuous man is shot by a troubled child and falls into a coma. None of these stories possess much narrative drive; broken into disjointed pieces and offered in impressionistic style, they serve as pieces of a mosaic that provide a shimmering and elaborate sense of grief but little emotional impact. The sentiments verge on cloying and seem oddly scattered, and the section ends abruptly to make way for a short piece describing a performance in a Salt Lake City literacy center. The third part of the book, the curiously punctuated “requiem: home: and the rain, after,” juxtaposes a Seattle murder with the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. While also often fragmented and working a slippery divide between prose and the rhythm and structure of poetry, the narratives here possess intense emotional resonance. Partly narrated by the sister of the murderer and partly by the “liquidators” charged with obliterating the effects of radioactive fallout, the horrors of both personal and environmental disasters gain real traction, and Thon’s lyrical descriptions give a glimpse of the beauty of possible recovery.

An uneven book that struggles with its own fragmentation but occasionally offers striking reflections on the strange resilience of both humans and the natural world.

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-57366-053-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Univ. of Alabama

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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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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