A smart, original collection.

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STORIES

An accomplished debut collection of 16 stories, simultaneously bizarre and achingly familiar.

July wrote, directed and starred in the indie film Me and You and Everyone We Know, and the same slightly anguished humor informs these stories, peopled by misfits and loners not quite apprised of their own lowly status. The characters interact tentatively, inappropriately. They are dangerously lonesome people (despite their naïve attempts to connect) who have a lot of awkward sex. In “The Sister,” an old bachelor is fixed up by fellow factory worker Victor. Victor’s sister Blanca is always just out of sight, misses dates, becomes the stuff of mythology between the two men—until it becomes clear on a drugged-out night what Victor’s intentions really are. The longest of the collection, “Something That Needs Nothing,” follows two lesbians after high-school graduation as they run away to Portland, Ore. There they rent a cockroach-infested studio and try to find work, preferably one servicing an older woman willing to support them. Things don’t work out quite so dreamily, as one girl abandons the other to earn a living at Mr. Peeps Adult Video Store and More. “Mon Plaisir” traces a couple’s decline from passionless (including some of the saddest sex possible—he “nurses” her while she masturbates) to mute, as they find they like each other more when they get work as extras in a movie. There are a number of evocative short pieces—a woman teaches some seniors how to swim, a teacher believes her teenage poltergeist lover has taken the form of one of her Special Ed students, a woman who has had a port-stain birthmark removed from her face wonders if her husband would love her if she still had it. The stories have an otherworldly quality, but instead of being fantastical, they are emblematic of a modern loneliness in which the boundaries of normal behavior become useless, where the best that can be hoped for is a kind of aggressive voyeurism.

A smart, original collection.

Pub Date: May 15, 2007

ISBN: 0-7432-9939-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2007

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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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