The line between fact and fiction in Eleanor’s world is annoyingly blurred, but her oddball escapades help Friedmann...

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A LITTLE BIT RUINED

The heroine of Eleanor Rushing (1999) remains an unreliable, possibly delusional narrator, but Hurricane Katrina forces her to come to terms with reality and change.

In her hometown of New Orleans during the summer of 2005, Eleanor whiles away the hours watching reality TV shows featuring reconstructive surgery, a preoccupation seemingly fueled by ongoing ambiguity about her parents’ deaths. Eleanor contends that they died in a plane crash, but her family’s housekeeper, Naomi—still an important force in her life—says it was a car crash, which also gave Eleanor a scar that she claims not to be able to see. Men too are a complicated force in Eleanor’s world. She’s still in love with preacher Maxim Walters, but she hasn’t spoken to him in seven years; she’s waiting for his wife to die. Meanwhile, after her sometime suitor Theo introduces them at a benefit, she becomes infatuated with plastic surgeon Dr. Richard Kimball. Richard agrees to fix up Eleanor’s face, but she isn’t satisfied and wants work on her breasts, plus liposuction on her hips and thighs. When Hurricane Katrina hits, most of Eleanor’s acquaintances evacuate, but she is determined to stay, making a dangerous trek to Naomi’s shotgun house in the largely black neighborhood known as Pigeontown. Diabetic neighbor Miss Leona comes to stay with them and has a medical emergency, which is enough to propel Eleanor into action. With Miss Leona’s best interests theoretically in mind, she tracks down Richard in Houston, where she spends most of her time convincing him to perform more surgery on her. This time, though, she isn’t happy with the results, considering herself as ruined as her beloved hometown.

The line between fact and fiction in Eleanor’s world is annoyingly blurred, but her oddball escapades help Friedmann poignantly portray New Orleans’ desperation.

Pub Date: April 1, 2007

ISBN: 1-59376-145-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Shoemaker & Hoard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

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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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