Not a failure—it’s a worthy successor to Richard Powers’s similarly time-shifting novel, Gain—but its seams occasionally...

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CONSOLATION

The death of a prominent but scandalized scholar prompts a search for a photographic record of early Toronto in Redhill’s second novel (Martin Sloane, 2002), in which narrative leaps between the 19th and 20th centuries.

When David Hollis, wracked by Lou Gehrig’s disease, committed suicide in the summer of 1997, he left behind a broken reputation. Shortly before dying, the “forensic geologist” authored a monograph claiming that a ship buried in the heart of downtown Toronto contained photographs of the entire city in the 1850s, but his refusal to show the diary he cited as evidence sparked accusations that he made up the whole thing. Hoping to rescue his honor, his grieving widow, Marianne, takes up residence in a hotel room overlooking the parcel of land where the photos are allegedly buried—and where a sports stadium is about to be built. High-strung and contentious, she regularly does battle with John, her daughter’s fiancé, the sole person who knows about her vigil. The book alternates between Marianne’s story and that of Jem Hallam, a pharmacist who moves to Toronto from England in 1855; after Hallam’s attempt to run an apothecary nearly bankrupts him (it turns out he purchased the shop from a man who accidentally caused three people to overdose), he becomes one of the city’s earliest and most prolific photographers. The Hallam sections feature the novel’s best-drawn characters, including Samuel Ennis, the entrepreneurial but ailing man who introduces Jem to the photo trade, and Claudia Rowe, a down-on-her-luck widow who becomes his assistant. Redhill’s descriptions of early Toronto are warmly romantic while still capturing a hard-bitten frontier-times attitude. The modern-day portions of the book are weaker by comparison—Marianne and John are relatively undernourished characters who often behave in ways that drive the plot but feel unnatural, which makes the concluding revelations feel underwhelming.

Not a failure—it’s a worthy successor to Richard Powers’s similarly time-shifting novel, Gain—but its seams occasionally show.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2007

ISBN: 0-316-73498-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2006

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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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