An exasperating, beguiling, and occasionally damn-near perfect piece of work.

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BEHINDLINGS

One man leads, a band of misfits follows.

The British isle of Canvey is not the kind of place where most people would want to find themselves. And yet a knot of very determined and extremely odd people have hauled themselves to the island (which, as the residents remind everyone, Defoe once mistakenly referred to as “Candy Island”) for the basic and insane purpose of Following. The object of the Following is one Wesley, a hyperintense eccentric whose life has become the stuff of legend. His followers, whom he calls Behindlings, are always there, wherever his feet take him, lurking behind, in the shadows. They compare notes on what he’s doing, where he’s going, compete with their knowledge of Wesley-ana, and generally act like the minor misbegotten maniacs that they are. Wesley also seems to be a somewhat deluded eccentric with a penchant for light ecoterrorism, seduction, and self-flattery. In the murky past that exists before the story’s even murkier present, he wrote a book that won him some renown and now has companies fighting over who is going to sponsor him, his Behindlings, and even a Web site devoted to all things Wesley. Whereas Wesley comes off as a self-important if fascinating blowhard (he once stole a pond, just to prove a point), more interesting is Katherine Turpin. Canvey’s local scarlet woman, Katherine is content to knock about her deliriously sloppy house, drinking sweet liqueurs in various stages of undress and mocking the entire Wesley enterprise. Like much else here, it’s unclear exactly how she fits into the scheme of things—a question that only gradually becomes understandable toward the haunting climax. Fortunately, this infuriatingly talented British author (The Three Button Trick, 1999, etc.) doesn’t feel any need to hurry her story along, and no real pressure to get to the bottom of its puzzle-box of confusion. Which is as it should be.

An exasperating, beguiling, and occasionally damn-near perfect piece of work.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-018569-4

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2002

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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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