Too much engineering tends to suck the life out of a sensitive salvation story.

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THE GIRL IN THE GARDEN

In Wallace's (The Housekeeper, 2006, etc.) tightly structured third novel, unspoken feelings and long-endured suffering give birth to love and acceptance among the residents of a New England town.

Withdrawn mothers, surrogate daughters, and sympathetic men with scarred faces come in pairs in Wallace’s latest novel, which has unusually visible authorial fingerprints all over it. Narrated by six voices in the years 1974 and 1977, the story connects a group of isolated individuals in a backwater port town. One character links them all: a young mother named June, who arrives with her baby, Luke, at Mabel’s motel and is soon abandoned there by the child’s father. June, whose wastrel mother has taught her that “desertion [is] a normal state of being,” is saved by a human chain of compassion composed of Mabel herself; her rich-widow friend, Iris; a benevolent loner named Oldman; and Sam, a physically and psychically scarred Vietnam vet. The only figure uncommitted to June is Iris’ estranged daughter, Claire, who also, in her time, experienced Oldman’s loving aid. Wallace’s heightened approach to her narrative is evident not just in its symmetries, but also in the extremes and absolutes she invokes. Iris’ marriage contained a bizarre secret which led her, after her husband died, to withdraw utterly from the world. Oldman “would do everything, anything” for June because she is the double of a refugee he loved during World War II. For Sam, ruined and isolated after his war injuries, “not even his father had called him [son], no officer or nurse or doctor…had ever put a consoling hand on his shoulder.” Delivered in short story–like chapters, packed with narration but almost devoid of dialogue, this mannered tale is written in prose that is both lovely and sometimes as self-conscious as the book’s composition.

Too much engineering tends to suck the life out of a sensitive salvation story.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-78466-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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