Again, Englander demonstrates his skill at placing timeless concerns of Judaism in sharply modern circumstances. This one...

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KADDISH.COM

A lapsed Jew returns to the fold and becomes obsessed with redeeming a spiritual mistake made 20 years earlier.

When Larry's father dies, he must travel from Brooklyn to his sister Dina's house in Memphis, Tennessee, to sit shiva in the style of the Orthodox community from which he has vigorously removed himself. "The second day of shiva is even harder than the first....He lets himself be small-talked and well-wished, nodding politely....One after another, he receives the pathologically tone-deaf tales of everyone else's dead parents....Larry wants to say, in response, 'Thanks for sharing, and fuck your dead dad.' " As his sister and her rabbi clearly understand, there is no way, no how this guy will fulfill his duty as his father's only son to recite the mourner's kaddish daily for 11 months. But without it, his father will be "gathering wood for his own fire" in the World to Come. As a last resort, the rabbi explains that he can find a proxy to do it for him. So Larry does, hitting upon a website that provides just this service at Kaddish.com, "a JDate for the dead." Then, a week or two after the contract ends, Larry receives a note from Chemi, the yeshiva boy with whom he was matched. It includes a photo that somehow shakes loose in Larry all his grief for his father and himself. It leads him to change his life and his name; frankly, the person he becomes, whom we encounter two decades later, seems to have nothing in common with the original Larry. Incidents in his new life lead to his determination to find a way to atone for his long-ago shirking, no matter what it costs in the present. From the title and the tone in the "Larry" part of the book, Englander's (Dinner at the Center of the Earth, 2017, etc.) novel might seem to be a satire, but it ends up feeling more like a straightforward, almost simplistic parable designed to teach a spiritual lesson, one which takes very seriously Orthodox views of the soul and afterlife. On the other hand, it contains what is certainly one of the weirdest sex scenes ever found in a nice Jewish story.

Again, Englander demonstrates his skill at placing timeless concerns of Judaism in sharply modern circumstances. This one feels oddly preachy, though.

Pub Date: March 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-3275-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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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