Ruffin shows that “Southern” does not always have to be paired with “Gothic” and that “where families are concerned, things...

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JESUS IN THE MIST

STORIES

Remarkable stories of seekers, idealists, visionaries and the occasional racist, written in an authentic Southern idiom.

Ruffin’s (Castle in the Gloom, 2004, etc.) characters inhabit a space—usually Mississippi—where they can act out a range of emotions on both the domestic and religious fronts. One of the best stories starts out the collection: “When Momma Came Home for Christmas and Talmidge Quoted Frost.” The story is constructed around a quasi-metaphysical (and funny) debate about what to do with the ashes of Darlene’s mother. Darlene’s barely domesticated husband Talmidge (“she had over the years subdued him to the useful and the good by methodically correcting his manners and language until she at least felt comfortable with him in Wal-Mart”) joins Darlene in a plot to load at least some of his mother-in-law’s ashes into a Christmas ornament and wing it over the fence of the old home place. In “The Queen,” Earl McManus, recently retired from a shipyard in Pascagoula, finally builds a 45-foot dream boat in his backyard to the delight of his wife and the consternation of his son. Grover Johnson, in the story that gives its name to the collection, lets down his softball team composed of power-company linemen in pursuit of a larger mystery: a mirror that discloses a “blond, blue-eyed Jesus” when it fogs up. “In Search of the Tightrope Walker” reveals yet another idealist, a retired professor in search of a dream vision of a circus performer he’d seen as a child. After a mediocre career and a failed marriage, he’s desperately seeking the image of perfection and beauty he’d experienced years earlier. And along the way, he learns Ruffin’s most endearing truth: “Most stories about people are sad. The ones about animals sometimes turn out all right, but not them about people.”

Ruffin shows that “Southern” does not always have to be paired with “Gothic” and that “where families are concerned, things are rarely simple.”

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-57003-699-6

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Univ. of South Carolina

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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