Love of life, music, sex and language redeem a work that might have benefited from more continuity and focus.

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CUBOP CITY BLUES

Storytelling that playfully illuminates the essence of storytelling, though heavier on atmosphere and color than narrative momentum and cohesion.

Some of the shorter vignettes seem to function as prose poems, and a few of the longer pieces work as stand-alone stories, though the recurrence of characters throughout the selections suggests a novelistic scope. The titular “Cubop City” is a Manhattan of the imaginary realm; it is “walking words and static silence and drums and saints and demons with penises like flaming hoses stalking the pretty girls by the school door...It is the long nose of the marketplace and the short nose of the church.” But it is not the only city explored here, as the book culminates in the birth of Afro-Cuban jazz in New Orleans (with Jelly Roll Morton as midwife) and makes extended stops in Havana and Las Vegas. The stories are attributed to “The Storyteller,” a blind man born to parents who never loved him or each other and are now on the verge of death. “I made believe I could see, I made believe I was a character in the stories,” he explains. “I made believe I had a life inside the fiction, that I could love and be afraid and tell stories and be wounded and married and divorced and live alongside the characters I created. And that it was all true.” Such truth manifests itself in repeated incidents of stabbing wounds and obsessions or foot fetishism, amid a more pervasive sexuality. He writes of “trying to devise a story that had no solitude, no death, and no sex. No sex? It was like fishing for the impossible fish.”

Love of life, music, sex and language redeem a work that might have benefited from more continuity and focus.

Pub Date: June 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1984-1

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

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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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