More a detailed portrait than a riveting tale of a family caught in the undertow of a fatal obsession.



The fifth from American-born Ragen (The Ghost of Hannah Mendes, 1998, etc.), a resident of Israel for the past 30 years, draws on her childhood to tell the poignant story of Sara, a young girl who also grew up in low-income housing in New York City.

Chains Around the Grass serves as cautionary tale about men who dream big while scanting the blessings they already have, like loving families. Russian-born David Markowitz imagines “fitting in seamlessly. . . . Being a regular guy . . . and American,” which, he thinks, requires his being rich and successful. In 1953, convinced that fulfillment is just around the corner, he sells his small store and buys a yellow cab, to be the first of a fleet. But as Dave begins building his company, he decides the family should move from their house in New Jersey to the cheaper projects in New York. Wife Ruth, elder son Jesse, daughter Sara, and baby Louis, not enthralled with the move, try to adjust. For the first year, life isn’t too bad: the business thrives, the neighbors are friendly. Then a rougher element moves in, Dave is mugged, and, after befriending the mysterious Mr. Hesse, sells the cab and invests the money with Hesse, who claims to be a financial consultant. Instead, he absconds, and Dave dies shortly afterward during minor surgery. As Ruth struggles to hold the family together, six-year-old Sara attends the local Jewish school and finds consolation in religion and education, while Jesse drops out to start a business career—but at 16 is overwhelmed by his responsibilities and breaks down. The family survives, but no one can forget David: the beguiling figure who remains greatly loved even when unwittingly inflicting pain and suffering.

More a detailed portrait than a riveting tale of a family caught in the undertow of a fatal obsession.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2002

ISBN: 1-902881-53-2

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Toby Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2001

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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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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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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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