Work that bears the promise of good things to come.

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SWEET & LOW

A first collection of short stories by newcomer White (How to Survive a Summer, 2017).

“How well can you know a person?” That question, posed by a therapist, provides a mantra for White’s stories, set in Mississippi and, within its confines, the South of people who are “educated and practical, mostly Southerners with quasi liberal leanings,” to say nothing of a former Miss Mississippi who “came out as a lesbian years after her reign.” The opening story, “The Lovers,” recounts a different kind of love story, a bisexual triangle that operates in all its awkward effort at casualness until the apex “got himself killed in a plane crash, and shit got complicated.” As with much literary fiction, the scenario pushes at the edges of probability but seems plausible—especially in the possibility that that educated, practical, liberal cohort, forming the audience for the ostensibly wronged wife’s podcast, consists of all the dead man’s former lovers, which “would make her, like, the ultimate fag hag.” White verges on fable with the next story, in which a man already in a very bad situation faces down the karma that just might be visited on him by a passing cottonmouth: “It braved to skim across his neck, and Pete could sense each of its tiny ribs as it treaded across his skin, rubbing his flesh like sandpaper.” A highlight is the title story, a fine exemplar of lower-class yearning, in this case to make a fortune as a country music star guided by a slick Svengali: “They’re all so whiney,” says the would-be star of the models he’s guided her to, to which he replies, “Whiney sells.” There’s little whining here, but all the adultery and unrequited longing and even a dead dog needed for a country hit are present. A bonus: White’s unapologetic homage to William Faulkner, known here as “the Author,” turned into an industry by the little town that once shunned him as a boozy menace.

Work that bears the promise of good things to come.

Pub Date: June 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-57365-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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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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