Energetic and engaging, these stories benefit from the sheer vigor of their telling but ultimately propose more than they...

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THE SEA BEAST TAKES A LOVER

A debut short story collection that treads the line between the speculative and the satirical with vivid prose, fatalist joie de vivre, and wild imaginative turns.

The worlds of Andreasen’s stories are as multitudinous as the worlds of the American experience. There are space worlds—“Rockabye, Rocketboy” and “Bodies in Space,” in which two middle-management adulterers have been abducted and then replanted on Earth as living recording devices for alien ethnographers. There are ocean worlds—“Our Fathers at Sea” and the delightful title story, in which a galleon of anachronistic scallywags is slowly scuttled by an amorous squid. There are fun-house worlds—“The King’s Teacup at Rest,” “Rite of Baptism”—and worlds in which the Southern California–flavored constants of suburban sprawl, lonely interstate connectors, and the isolated interiors of middle-class lives are interrupted by saints and saviors, headless sisters, and prepubescent psychopaths transformed into living gods of fire. Throughout, the author’s pitch-perfect sense of the linguistic weird—the “sort-of-otters already bobbing in dagger-toothed flotillas,” the “parable of the independent subcontractor and the hornet’s nest”—hones the humor of these stories to an uneasy keen. Andreasen’s style is reminiscent of George Saunders at his most cynical, and yet the collection as a whole is marred by a kind of cavalier misogyny that echoes through even the most sensitively wrought stories. The women of these fictions are caretakers, porn stars, and whores. They are absent wives and headless sisters. Erased by the relentless, boisterous boy-dom of the plots, the potential in the female characters’ identities is sacrificed in service to the sight gag, the fun-house parable, the cautionary tale of male predation. It is a disappointing flaw in an otherwise impressive debut.

Energetic and engaging, these stories benefit from the sheer vigor of their telling but ultimately propose more than they produce.

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-101-98661-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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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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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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