A dark comedy with unexpected heart.

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THE VEINS OF THE OCEAN

After her older brother Carlito kills his girlfriend Isabela's baby girl because he thinks Isabela is cheating on him, 23-year-old Reina feels trapped trying to comfort him on death row—until his death frees her to start over in Crescent Key, a place where nobody knows her family history.

At first, Carlito claimed he didn't throw Isabela’s baby into the river on purpose; it was, he said, an accident. Never mind that it's the same thing Carlito’s father, Hector, did to 3-year-old Carlito when he thought his own wife had cheated on him. Back then, Carlito survived due to the lifesaving efforts of nearby fishermen. But now, alone in solitary confinement, Carlito “doesn’t try to act remorseful or even say he’s innocent anymore,” says Reina. Somehow Engel (It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris, 2013, etc.) is able to find a lightness in a disturbing story to carry the reader through the novel. But this effervescent, breezy voice does jar, at times, with the dark subject matter. Still, Engel has crafted a detailed, rich world of vivid atmosphere and imagery: “the hum of the ceiling fan blades hit me like a torrent of screams,” Reina thinks, after her brother is found dead, a suicide hanging from the electrical cord of his fan. Finally free of her weekly visits to the prison, Reina moves to Crescent Key and finds companionship with Cuban immigrant Nesto Cadena and with the local dolphins—until she realizes that the only way she will truly be free is to reckon not just with Carlito’s death, but with the rest of her family’s ghosts as well. Here is the casual violence of men—and the tired acceptance of it that women face. But through it all rises Reina’s voice—her belief in optimism, in family, in the importance of life.

A dark comedy with unexpected heart.

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2489-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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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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