This strangely amusing novella has the power to inspire serious efforts to find significance in the very book in which it is...

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THE FESTIVAL OF INSIGNIFICANCE

Forgotten tyrants and blatant belly buttons have equally playful roles in this deceptively slight, whimsically thoughtful tale of a few men in Paris not doing or saying much.

The sight of young women with exposed navels in the Luxembourg Gardens sets Alain to musing “on the different sources of feminine seductiveness.” Not far away, Ramon avoids a Chagall show because of the long line. D’Ardelo, whose medical tests reveal he doesn’t have cancer after all, nonetheless lies when he meets Ramon in the park and says he does. A man seduces a woman with banal remarks because brilliance challenges her to compete, “whereas insignificance sets her free.” Stalin enters the narrative by way of a biography of Khrushchev given to Charles, who tells a visiting Ramon that “our master” provided it. The master is the narrator or author, whose intrusions resonate with Charles’ desire to use the Khrushchev story in a marionette theater. The Stalin thread opens with a bad joke about his bagging 24 partridges on a hunt, a story derided by Khrushchev and others over the urinals they share. (Scholars may reference the latrine fouled by Stalin’s son in The Unbearable Lightness of Being.) Charles, Ramon, and Alain discuss how the monstrous Stalin has faded from memory. But the narrative recalls an official named Kalinin, a “poor innocent puppet” in Stalin’s government, who has a weak bladder. He and the tyrant reappear late in the book, shooting and urinating in the Luxembourg Gardens before driving off in a small carriage drawn by two ponies. Art, sex, disease, history, and friendship are lightly treated themes woven through scenes whose significance may be partly the disproving of a concern raised in Kundera’s Ignorance, that “emigration causes artists to lose their creativity.” But does the Czech-born writer who’s lived in France for years truly believe, at age 86, that insignificance is “the essence of existence”?

This strangely amusing novella has the power to inspire serious efforts to find significance in the very book in which it is so perversely denied.

Pub Date: June 23, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-235689-5

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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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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