SHIRTLESS IN ICELAND

The ex-pat cafe crowd considers the life worth living in Paris.

In modern Paris, as always, a coterie of privileged, successful, attractive, dissatisfied 20–30somethings contemplate their self-worth over coffee and wine in the city of love’s countless clean, well-lighted places. Paris, in all its chaos and charm, may very well be the navel-gazing capital of the world, and so it serves appropriately as the lively setting for Simpson’s (Six Packs in South Dakota, 2011, etc.) new portrait of malcontents. School teacher Peregrine moved to Paris from America in hopes of distancing himself from his overbearing family while also searching for a deeper meaning in life. But he can’t escape—his family shows up at his doorstep unannounced, and thoughts of death consume him. Most intriguingly, Peregrine’s melancholy is colored by his toxic relationship, as a gay man, to Emma—the buxom, man-eating alpha-female who beguiles all men and women, gay and straight. A colorful cast of personalities populates the novel, each with his or her existential issues, especially Peregrine’s artful mother and his father, Arthur Woodmancy, an author famous for horror novels. Arthur takes pride in their “family fondness for literary references,” a fondness Simpson shares—he namedrops Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Austen, Hardy and many others. Simpson showcases his writing talent in the novel’s many somber, reflective passages, while maintaining a keen sense of detail and place. But attempts to make despair seem fashionable result in a vexing layer of superficial smarminess, exemplified by overcooked repartee. Even the horrific, jarring death at the novel’s center comes across as contrived, weighed down by heavy-handed metaphors. Yet the “cloud-[trek] across and through the murky pandemonium of [Peregrine’s] life” can be a captivating read, albeit as exhausting as expected when audience to a self-absorbed depressive obsessing over his life as a setting sun, unsure if it also rises. A notable effort in need of firmer footing to reach the depths it probes.

 

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-1466201873

Page Count: 331

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2011

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more