Classic examples of the art of short fiction, capturing the variety of human experience with sophisticated economy.

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WHERE THE LIGHT FALLS

Esteemed in her lifetime but largely forgotten today, short story master Hale (1908-1988) gets a welcome reintroduction in this collection of 25 astute, finely wrought tales.

Novelist Groff, who made the judicious selections, also provides an introduction sketching the writer’s background: Born into Boston’s Yankee aristocracy, the daughter of bohemians without a lot of money, Hale was a debutante who cast a cold eye on the class she came from while enjoying its glamorous accoutrements. The early stories from the 1930s and early 1940s have backgrounds that would have been familiar to Fitzgerald: coming-out parties, jazz orchestras, Ivy League athletics, fast driving in fancy cars. Yet they paint quietly acid pictures of Southern snobbery (“That Woman”), male dominance masking fragility (“Crimson Autumn”), and ethnic tensions in summer communities (“To the North”). Hale is rarely overtly political, but two stories from the '40s, “Those Are as Brothers” and “The Marching Feet,” stingingly make the point that fascism has home-grown versions. Long before the feminist movement was reborn, she acknowledged women’s ambivalence about having children (“The Bubble”) and the potential oppressiveness of marriage (“Sunday—1913”). Hale’s personal experience of mental illness sparks some of the collection's best work: “Who Lived and Died Believing” expertly blends a harrowing account of electric shock treatment with a sharp portrait of a kind nurse’s romance with a callous resident; “Some Day I’ll Find You…” and “Miss August” both anatomize intricate social interactions in psychiatric sanatoriums, the former with a comic touch, the latter in a darker tone. Hale’s prose is elegant without calling attention to itself, like the well-cut dresses one is sure her female characters wear. There’s a slight slackening in some of the later stories, but not in “Rich People” (1960), a marvelously complex examination of a woman’s seething ambivalence about her “high thinking and plain living” family and herself that closes with the anguished question, “Where is my life?”

Classic examples of the art of short fiction, capturing the variety of human experience with sophisticated economy.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59853-642-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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