Energetic, vivid—and unconvincing: Mom is just too much

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PLACES TO LOOK FOR A MOTHER

Powerfully written if narratively undercharged debut is more a portrait of a monstrous fictional Mommie Dearest (by a remarkably forgiving daughter) than a compelling story of alienation and understanding.

Like many contemporary writers, Stansbury gets the details right, but the characters, however outrageously they behave, seem more concepts-in-costume. The storyline is equally undernourished. The narrator, younger daughter Lucy Taylor, begins her reminisces of life with Mom when still in grade school, as the family's trailer goes off the road en route to Utah, where they are to live Her mother Miriam didn't want to leave California and their home , the picturesque “House on the Hill,” but her father Bob suspected Miriam might have been seeing other men. An understandable fear since Miriam,, self-centered and impulsive, is a Mom who likes to walk on the wild side. Lucy relates next how Miriam, deciding she has Mexican blood, calls herself “Juanita” and works at a local Mexican restaurant for a few days. She also flirts with Mormonism, reads Lucy's diary, and steals whatever she can from restaurants. Bob tries to please Miriam, but Miriam wants more than he can give her. The two divorce, which means Lucy and sister Jen must cope with Mom's lies, machinations, and moves. Miriam keeps moving from California to Alaska, where she ends up as she chases her dreams—as protean as her personality. In Alaska, she claims to have Tlingit blood; follows her unsuitable lovers—two of whom she marries—while along the way getting her Master’s and, incredibly, becoming a psychologist. Lucy, who loves Dad and the orderly life he lives, resents Mom's tastes (ketchup is her vegetable of choice) and her behavior. Still, the now grown-up Lucy, whose own life has been difficult, is amazingly grateful for Mom's zest for living and the lessons she taught her about life.

Energetic, vivid—and unconvincing: Mom is just too much

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7867-0978-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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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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