A fine study in the psychology of yearning, elegantly told.



A closely observed saga of scientific discovery—but with stolen kisses, madness and plenty of other complications.

Percival Lowell, one of the many real-life characters in Byers’s (Long for This World, 2003, etc.) novel, is a man obsessed by many things: Martian canals, alien species, undiscovered planets lurking at the edges of the solar system. But, as Byers slyly observes, he “was not the only wild-eyed schemer that Arizona ever attracted; indeed, now in the summer of 1928, it can seem as though something in the desert air is drawing them by the carload.” Some are wealthy, including chemical-fortune heir Felix DuPrie, an amateur paleontologist who helps revise the fossil record—and names a dinosaur species after a woman inconveniently married to someone else. That someone else, meanwhile, names a comet after a woman inconveniently married to yet someone else. While Byers’s tale is generally family-rated, there is plenty of unrequited and rather desperate love to go around. Farm boy Clyde Tombaugh wanders into the pulsing scientific scene as if a less privileged Nick Carraway among the West Egg set and finds himself vying with the best minds Harvard can produce to find the planet Lowell so desperately seeks. Everyone in Byers’s pages is searching for something, whether far away or underneath the dirt—and no one, it seems, is quite content with what he or she has, except, perhaps, for DuPrie’s hardworking crew of Italian immigrants. Much is at stake, and as Byers’s players peer into the reaches of the universe, hearts break and minds snap. This would all be high-order romance were Byers not such a careful writer and, as it happens, so faithful a historian, and he turns in some lovely lines, among them this one: “The mind travels out into the landscape and, finding nothing, returns with the sense that something really is in residence there: something huge, silent, eternal.” Just so.

A fine study in the psychology of yearning, elegantly told.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9218-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2010

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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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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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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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