A smart and uplifting tale of personal and musical renewal; an impressive debut.

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Magic Flute

Tragedy puts a young flutist on a new and challenging path.

When readers first meet Elizabeth Morgan, the main character in Minger’s first novel, she’s a promising young classical flute player with plenty of talent and even more ambition. She dreams of the limelight even though she knows that the spotlight seldom shines on wind instrument virtuosos. Her stepmother, “Madly,” is a successful art connoisseur, and her father, David, has published “five lavish collections of photography in the last fourteen years.” But the parental influence of most lasting import in the tale is posthumous: Liz’s mother, Margaret, who gave up a much-admired career as an opera singer when she became a mother (as Minger prettily puts it: “The next year Margaret Moran had handed her career back to the gods who had bestowed it upon her, and Liz had been born”). Liz is consumed by her hunger for fame, but her dreams are destroyed when she’s involved in a horrific car crash and her hands are injured. Despite “artificial joints, reconstructed tendons, grafted nerves,” the damage won't heal completely, and Liz is forced to contemplate a life without flute playing. It doesn’t soften her flinty personality—Minger does a very subtle and remarkable job of creating a pitiable protagonist without making her sympathetic—nor does it long quash her drive, which resurfaces, now attached to following in her mother’s footsteps and entering the opera world. The author describes that sphere and its outsized personalities with fluid readability, handling the abundant technical and insider details so naturally that readers should feel educated rather than excluded. Liz moves from America to Wales and auditions for opera productions with a company in Cardiff, where she meets Giles Offeryn, the troupe’s brilliant and charismatic music director. Throughout the book’s expertly paced latter half, the increasing romantic sparks between Liz and Giles alternate with the behind-the-scenes tensions of the soprano facing one demanding stage role after another. The result is a thoroughly adult-feeling romance plot with an unforgettable main character set in an absorbingly realized world of performance art.

A smart and uplifting tale of personal and musical renewal; an impressive debut.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-63152-093-8

Page Count: 376

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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