A dry, internal work about the underappreciated and underloved.



A brief, winsome novella about an English professor at a midwestern college who gets a dog instead of a life.

At almost forty-five, poet and academic Jill Rosen, after six years at her college tenured on the basis of “Great Promise,” is not turning out very promising in a hurry. Originally from Queens, Jill has found a dog on a foster-care site on the Internet and ends up with a mutt that surprisingly is both intelligent and devoted to her—a dog, like her, “with dignity.” Revealingly, she names it Phil, after the first names of authors whose books she keeps on her bedside table (Larkin, Roth, Lopate, Levine), though the name actually represents most memorably her first unpleasant boyfriend, Philip the first, a poet and Brooklyn College student she dated miserably for a year in New York. Yet neither Philip nor any of the other men she’s dated has been good, Rosen offers with a tinge of self-pity (“Single-minded in their dedication to all-himness”), and though she drinks a bit too much wine at night before walking Phil and feels as warmly toward her students as if they were her own children, she comforts herself with the thought that she wouldn’t be tempted to change lives with a single one of her friends or colleagues. In the end, this latest from academic Herman (Missing, 1990) adheres to a telling instead of showing: it’s frustratingly interior, hermetically so, and feels interminable even though quite slim. The narrator’s ruminations on colleagues and even her brother—a professor of linguistics who has a family and lived “in a more interesting city and earned more money than Jill did”—come off as mean-spirited and gossipy. The reader wishes in this rare instance that the lonely spinster professor would meet someone—any human would do—but, no, the dog has taken over her life, and she’s entirely happy about it.

A dry, internal work about the underappreciated and underloved.

Pub Date: March 22, 2005

ISBN: 1-59692-111-0

Page Count: 188

Publisher: MacAdam/Cage

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2005

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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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