Not one of Barker's triumphs. She's a gifted realist who usually excels at putting flesh on the bones of what might seem...

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BORDER CROSSING

A former child murderer's relationship with the psychologist whose testimony had assured his conviction and imprisonment is the core of this intriguing, melodramatic, and rather diffused eighth novel from the British author of the award-winning Regeneration Trilogy.

In fact the characters of Regeneration's wartime psychotherapist W.H.R. Rivers and his bisexual patient Billy Prior have clearly influenced those of this novel's protagonist, Tom Seymour, and morally opaque Danny Miller, whom Tom rescues from drowning without recognizing him (13 years after Danny, at age 10, had murdered an elderly woman neighbor)—in a striking opening scene dominated by ironic and disturbing images of childbirth. Barker works hard at portraying Seymour's innate decency, at odds with his personal failings (as a presumably infertile and inattentive husband) and his inability to grasp the quicksilver enigma of the adult Danny (now renamed "Ian Wilkinson"): brooding, paranoid, apparently deeply traumatized, yet alert and intelligent, sedulously pursuing informal "sessions" with Seymour (because "I simply want to know what happened and why"). Their meetings are balanced by scenes depicting both Tom's unraveling personal life and his investigative visits with people involved in Danny's past, his trial, and his (ostensible) rehabilitation—including a hard-bitten probation officer, a benign reform-school headmaster, and the male teacher accused of sexually abusing the adolescent Danny. Barker keeps it moving (the thriller element here is quite pronounced, though subordinated to the central patient-therapist relationship), and the story holds our interest, even if it does seem overindebted to both Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley and Barker's own earlier, superior fiction.

Not one of Barker's triumphs. She's a gifted realist who usually excels at putting flesh on the bones of what might seem mere case histories, but Border Crossing is really only a return visit to previously explored fictional territory.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-18115-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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