A juicy, occasionally literary rendering of a complicated young adulthood that shows promise but lacks writerly refinements.

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TWINE

In this debut novel, an artist in Michigan must reconcile her dark family history with her creative aspirations.

Upon graduating from the Art Institute of Chicago and receiving only tepid encouragement to apply to graduate school, Juniper Kowalski moves back to her impoverished, sub-rural hometown of Gobles, Michigan. In doing so, Juniper worries she is setting herself up to succumb to a generations-long fate of “static poorness” and abusive, abandonment-ridden relationships. Juniper lives in her dead grandmother’s old trailer, works a housekeeping job at a local hotel, and spends her time off drinking at a bar with friends or visiting her chain-smoking mother who toils at a Subway inside a local Walmart. As Juniper moves about the bleakness of Gobles daily, she is plagued by the distance growing between her current life and her Chicago existence as well as by the accompanying stalemate she has reached in her art career. But this stagnancy is soon interrupted by a startling encounter at work. Juniper, in the middle of her room-cleaning rounds, is rendered love-struck by an out-of-town hotel guest named Kirk Janoski, a handsome, charming art history professor with a wife. Juniper and Kirk catapult into a passionate love affair that results in the protagonist becoming pregnant. Upon discovering the pregnancy after Kirk’s heartbreaking departure, she decides to keep the baby without telling the father. This decision launches Juniper into the process of mourning her family legacy. In doing so, pregnant Juniper—to her delighted surprise—energetically reconnects with her drive and begins creating art again, a reunion that challenges her profoundly in unexpected but vital ways. In her novel, Duncan demonstrates literary potential. Her writing is lovely in places; plots and subplots are vivid and generally well managed; and certain complex emotional experiences—especially those related to pregnancy and the creative process—are dexterously portrayed. That said, the characters—though written with appreciable tenderness—have an overall trite quality and the narration regularly slips into overexplaining. In addition, the prose sometimes devolves into clichés. At one point, the author describes a touching Christmas scene involving Juniper and her mother: “That moment was like a present with a bow.”

A juicy, occasionally literary rendering of a complicated young adulthood that shows promise but lacks writerly refinements.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-921332-62-6

Page Count: 284

Publisher: Crowsnest Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2019

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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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