A grim, ugly caricature of tragedy.



The author of Blue Horse Dreaming (2003) tells the unhappy story of a very unlucky girl.

When Jamie Hall’s mother dies, the teenager runs away to an unnamed town, an island of humanity that’s been a bitter ghost of its former self ever since the federal government flooded it to create a reservoir. For a while, she’s kept by a mean drunk she meets at a pizza parlor. Her life is already on a downward spiral when she frees a feral boy tied to a tree. It turns out that he is the junkman’s son, part of an inbred clan that lives in near-freakish squalor and depravity. Jamie’s kind act unleashes a wave of violence: The junkman wants retribution for her meddling, and the feral boy himself is mindlessly bloodthirsty. This setup is promising enough in a Gothic sort of way, but the author is able only to drain it of drama: Wallace repeatedly chooses seemingly portentous description over forward momentum. This is a novel in which a wisteria vine is “ancient,” “serpentlike” and “now barren.” It takes the author 27 words to describe a walk that Jamie takes up a flight of stairs (she reports not only every creak, but the meaning of every creak). Ironically, Wallace’s ponderous care ultimately saps all significance from her narrative. As Jamie remains in this miserable, dangerous place, one can’t help but wonder why she doesn’t move on—anywhere is better than here. But then Jamie recalls a scene from her past: Looking out the window of the apartment she shared with her mother, she sees a “long useless and long unused canal that barely flowed, which in summer was thick with scum, floating garbage, the bellied-up carcasses of small animals no one could recognize from the bloat, and even when frozen in the winter emanated a stench of stagnant water and death.” At this point, the reader realizes that Jamie’s universe is one of unremitting foulness and despair, and Wallace’s narration begins to seem farcical in its utter bleakness. At least the dog doesn’t die.

A grim, ugly caricature of tragedy.

Pub Date: April 7, 2006

ISBN: 1-59692-140-4

Page Count: 300

Publisher: MacAdam/Cage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?



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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet