A gleaming, dark masterpiece by one of Southern fiction's leading voices.

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BLACKWOOD

Still bearing psychological scars from his childhood, Colburn, a junkyard sculptor, confronts the traumatic past when he returns to his hometown of Red Bluff, Mississippi.

In 1956, when he was a boy, Colburn's unloving father hung himself—an act the son not only witnessed, but also abetted. Years later, when Colburn was a teenager, he learned from his mother that before his father's death, he had a baby brother who met a horrible fate due to his father's negligence—something that helped explain the suicide and made Colburn feel even more unwanted. In 1975, when Colburn returns to Red Bluff after years away, he is not the only lost soul drawing attention in the now-faded town. A disheveled man, woman, and boy living out of a dead Cadillac are committing strange and desperate acts that the veteran sheriff, Myer, can't begin to figure out. A married man who has obsessed over Celia, owner of the town bar, since grade school is pushed to the edge when she begins a complicated relationship with the taciturn Colburn—whose father, Colburn learns, consorted with Celia's fortunetelling mother. Unsettling, heartbreaking, and frequently astonishing, this Southern gothic never runs out of revelations. No mere metaphor in Smith's hands, the novel's ever present kudzu vines are a malevolent force, "strands of bondage" with the power to disappear people, cars, and entire houses, concealing ghostly caves and tunnels once dug by slaves. Such is the power of Smith's pitch-black poetic vision that the deeper you get into the book, the more entwined you are by its creeping effects. "It's like when something moves in the dark," says Myer. "You can't see it but you know it's there. I wonder if that's where we are."

A gleaming, dark masterpiece by one of Southern fiction's leading voices.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-52981-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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