Kempadoo’s sensuous language and tangled storytelling veer between hypnotic and incomprehensible.

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ALL DECENT ANIMALS

Guyanese-British Kempadoo’s third novel (Tide Running, 2003, etc.) again takes on the socioeconomic complexity of the Caribbean, this time in Trinidad as a multiracial group cares for a friend dying of AIDS.

A fluid sense of time and Kempadoo’s mix of native patois and feverishly descriptive prose creates an almost hallucinogenic atmosphere to fill out the skeletal story of Trinidadian architect Fraser’s last days. Before his diagnosis, Fraser was already the center of a multicultural, multiracial circle of educated, artistic types. The son of middle-class Trinidadians, educated at Cambridge and gay, Frazier is a confusion of mixed allegiances, and during the lively parties he throws at the beautiful home he designed, his own conversation shifts in a heartbeat from local slang to proper British. But after he collapses from renal failure and discovers he has full-blown AIDS, his friends surround him: his tough but devoted houseboy, his lovers, his elegant and sexy women friends, the Catholic priest with whom he sparred over a building project, his furiously proper mother and browbeaten father, the working-class cab driver who suffered his own catastrophic loss when his Indian girlfriend was murdered. In particular, there is the Caribbean artist Ata, whose conflicted consciousness lightly weaves together the fragmented plot. Ata lives with Fraser’s friend Pierre, a French U.N. bureaucrat, and Fraser’s illness exposes cracks in the couple’s relationship. Like Fraser, Ata finds herself torn between her identity as a Caribbean and her embrace of Pierre’s European sophistication. Despite its intense sensuality, this is a novel more of ideas than emotions. How to balance the corruption and the creativity that define Trinidad and its vibrant but disturbingly violent boomtown capital, Port of Spain? How to balance European logic against the less rational, even magical power of the island? How to move past the history of political domination? How to live fully in the moment yet think clearly? How to communicate to anyone outside oneself? “How to live with the ugliness of the beauty we love?”

Kempadoo’s sensuous language and tangled storytelling veer between hypnotic and incomprehensible.

Pub Date: May 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-29971-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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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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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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