An ambitiously high-concept tale that mainly idles in a contemplative register.

READ REVIEW

FOREST DARK

Two American visitors to Israel undergo separate but similar metamorphoses in this cerebral novel by Krauss (Great House, 2010, etc.).

As the story opens, Jules Epstein, a wealthy retired divorcé, has gone missing in Israel, leaving behind a host of questions: why did he trade in his Fifth Avenue apartment for a decrepit seaside hovel? Why did he choose to spend a chunk of his fortune to help fund a biopic about King David? And what prompted the “slow unfurling of self-knowledge” that led him to abandon his well-off life? Meanwhile, in an alternate set of chapters, an unnamed young novelist has come to the Tel Aviv Hilton hoping to kick-start her next book and escape her crumbling marriage. There, she’s contacted by a man soliciting her help on a film based on an unpublished Kafka play and who also has some hard-to-believe news to deliver about Kafka himself. Jules and the novelist never directly connect, but they share similar existential predicaments: both are struggling to reconcile American and Israeli cultures and wrestle with religious and philosophical questions. Jules falls under the spell of a rabbi who opines on the connection between global and personal transformation, while the novelist revisits Kafka and Freud’s concept of unheimlich, a sort of world-weary anxiety and dread. Krauss, as ever, writes beautifully about complex themes, and she has a keen eye for the way Israel’s culture, slower but more alert to violence, requires its American characters to reboot their perceptions. Her big questions don’t always provoke big effects, though, and much of the drama she establishes for her two characters feels dry, with her riffs on Kafka and Judaism more essayistic than novelistic. And though the novel never promised high drama, its low boil makes it harder to inspire the reader to draw connections within her braided narrative.

An ambitiously high-concept tale that mainly idles in a contemplative register.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-243099-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more