Painful to read, yet hard to put down: a family drama akin to those of Eugene O’Neill.

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THE WAR AT HOME

No punches are pulled in this gritty “memoir novel” by Eisenberg, who draws on her own Bronx upbringing to depict a nightmare with two ghoulish faces: those of an abusive father and a pill-popping mother.

When their father comes home from WWII, Lucy Lehman and her older brother Nicky are still young enough to enjoy cavorting on their dancer mother Tippy’s back through the park near their apartment. But his return quickly changes all that. Embittered by the loss of his friends in battle, too much a socialist to be comfortable working for capitalist bosses, Dad rages around the house while Mom endures the torrent of abuse, hoping that the good man she married will return. When he launches a business selling snack food throughout the city, family life starts looking up—until the business goes sour. Then he gives up everything and moves out. It’s the last straw for Tippy, who mixes cocktails of uppers and downers and begins tormenting the kids in her own way. Through the kindness of neighbors in the various places they live, Lucy and Nicky are fed and somehow survive Tippy’s drug-laced neglect. After their father leaves his new girlfriend and comes home, enough peace is restored that they can spend three summers at a bohemian upstate camp, where their mother organizes the dance program. But eventually that falls apart too. Entering adolescence, Nicky and Lucy hold on to each other for stability, even making a small splash as a singing duo. Then another, more permanent abandonment by their father spawns renewed abuse from Tippy. Her children run away, but Lucy feels duty-bound to go back, and the final act of this American tragedy runs its short, brutish course. Eisenberg’s tale is so poignant that it’s easy to forgive her melodramatic tendencies.

Painful to read, yet hard to put down: a family drama akin to those of Eugene O’Neill.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-9679520-4-2

Page Count: 215

Publisher: Leapfrog

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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