Too busy a story makes for a tepid read: Delbanco’s latest skims the surface without grabbing hold.

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THE VAGABONDS

The prolific author (What Remains, 2000, etc.) traces a hidden legacy through three generations.

In 2003, Joanne, David, and Claire learn that their mother, Alice, has died and left them valuable GE stock they knew nothing about. For Joanne, a struggling single mother on Cape Cod, her $500,000 share is a lifesaver. Claire, married to a successful businessman in Ann Arbor, is more concerned with what she perceives as her mother’s preference for David. And David, who has always avoided commitment, doesn’t know how to respond to his mother’s stated hope that he will live in the family home in Saratoga. Flash back to Saratoga in 1916, when Alice’s mother, Elizabeth, attends a dinner hosted by her parents for Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone, who, along with Henry Ford, call themselves “The Vagabonds” and take traveling vacations together. Elizabeth is seduced and gotten pregnant by Firestone’s valet. To make restitution, The Vagabonds set up a trust fund in GE stock for Elizabeth’s heir. Two years later, Elizabeth’s baby dies of influenza. She marries, bears Alice, then succumbs young to cancer. Raised by her father, Alice marries a charming womanizer who dies with a mistress in a car wreck. Back in the present, Claire, Joanne, and David, who know little of this history, bicker about the house and divide their mother’s ashes. Claire goes home to discover her husband is leaving her for another man, though he then has a fatal heart attack—on the road. In her grief, Claire reaches out to the others. Joanna uses her new wealth to kick out her loser boyfriend, renovate her house, and buy a new car. David, as if there were any suspense about it, decides to move into the Saratoga house where the legacy began.

Too busy a story makes for a tepid read: Delbanco’s latest skims the surface without grabbing hold.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2004

ISBN: 0-446-53002-6

Page Count: 300

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2004

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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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