A fable, set in the 17th century, filled with vivid evocations of another time, wonderfully peculiar characters, and driven by a rather chilly vision of fate. Jose (Avenue of Eternal Peace, 1991) has an ingenious idea. Edward Popple, a British scientist scornful of his foppish colleagues and uncomfortable in Puritan England, takes a berth as ship's doctor on an expedition to see the Indian Ocean. His daughter Rosamund, a young woman frustrated by the stifling conventions of her class and time, becomes a stowaway on her father's ship. Then a mutiny leads to their abandonment on a small but overwhelmingly fertile island in the East, their only companions birds and sea turtles. Popple falls to the study of his new world with zest, while Rosamund samples her newfound independence, roaming the island, indulging in romantic fantasies. The only unsettling element is Popple's increasingly incestuous interest in his daughter. Their fraying idyll is ended, though, by the arrival of a Chinese junk, carrying an elderly eunuch, an advisor to the just-deposed Ming dynasty of China, and the last male heir to the Ming line, an indolent and seemingly impotent young man. Popple and Lou Lo, the eunuch, carry on lengthy debates in Latin. Meanwhile, Taizao, the heir, finds himself attracted to blond, zestful Rosamund, and after some truly peculiar foreplay, the two consummate their affair. For much of the novel, Jose's dense knowledge of 17th-century science and political theory, of horticulture and of the period's somber religious beliefs, drives the book along, gives it conviction and startling vigor. But the story turns increasingly grim; by the close, a series of nasty plots and betrayals feel as if they've been forced onto the narrative rather than drawn from it. Jose's evocation of his island, and of the conflicting worldviews of two utterly different civilizations in collision, is rich, often witty, and startling. He fumbles only in imposing too abrupt and mechanical an end on his odd, engaging characters.

Pub Date: June 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-87951-673-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1996

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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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