The drastic change of scene, though maybe necessary for artistic growth, has left Ali oddly adrift.

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ALENTEJO BLUE

The British Ali follows her stunning debut (Brick Lane, 2003) with these linked stories set in a Portuguese village.

Alentejo is an agricultural region of Portugal. Outside the village of Mamarrosa, Joao, an old peasant, makes a shocking discovery. His lifelong friend Rui has hanged himself in the woods. Rui was once tortured for his opposition to the Salazar dictatorship; he had also, before his marriage, spent a night making love to Joao. It’s an effective opening story, with its calm ruefulness, and a historical marker for Ali’s look at a contemporary Portuguese backwater, where traditional customs co-exist with cell phones and Internet cafes, and when foreigners (notably Brits) are trickling in. Some are expatriates. There’s the cynical middle-aged writer, Stanton, working on a novel about Blake, and his disreputable neighbors, the Potts. The father is “on the run,” though we don’t know from what; he has a doormat of a wife and a teenaged daughter who’s a slut. The sex-starved Stanton will bed mother and daughter both. Then there are the tourists, also Brits. Young Huw and Sophie have rented a house; Sophie has a history of depression and is experiencing pre-wedding jitters. The locals are on the move too. Twenty-year-old Teresa, who works at a deli, is off to London to work as an au pair; Marco, who left years ago and is rumored to have become a wealthy resort developer, is returning. The whole village is buzzing. Will he put Mamarrosa on the map? He arrives with a shaven head, a cape and enigmatic one-liners. Ali, so sure-footed in developing the immigrant Londoners of Brick Lane, seems at a loss to know what to do with him; the same goes for Stanton and the Potts, who implausibly reform themselves. What’s lacking is the discipline that stand-alone stories might have imposed. The author roams through many voices and perspectives, but the characterizations are superficial.

The drastic change of scene, though maybe necessary for artistic growth, has left Ali oddly adrift.

Pub Date: June 20, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-9303-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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