THE MAN WHO WOULD BE GOD

A debut collection of 11 sharply etched sketches and stories, most set in East Texas and several originally published in literary quarterlies like Ploughshares or Kansas Quarterly. Ruffin, a poet, is also editor of The Texas Review. In the title piece, Bob Billings, who inherits ``his father's vast holdings in land, oil and banking,'' moves to a large ranch and lives in ``his lonely castle,'' where (according to gossip and local legend) he tells some of the impoverished Mexicans who live on his land that he wants to be their god: If they devote themselves to him, he will take care of their material needs. On the day that he plans to deliver his gospel to them, however, he disappears. The story, told by the cowboys who worked for Billings, is effectively enigmatic. ``The Fox,'' the opening sketch, is about an unhappy farmer's wife who feels ``at times...hate, at other times mere indifference'' for her husband. Driven almost mad by this unhappiness and ambivalence, she finally plunges her hand into an oven-hot pie, ``where it stayed until the burning stopped and there was no feeling left at all.'' Ruffin is best when displaying such near-mad tension: in ``The Beast Within,'' a couple on their way to Houston have car trouble and stop for help at a house where a woman with a gun holds them hostage overnight before they get free. Likewise, in ``Storm,'' another couple—who gave up an urban life for ``one of the sorriest East Texas farms''—study an approaching storm before the husband runs into it and disappears ``like some enchanted boy trying to fly.'' Such moments and images—set in a Texas where landscape only emphasizes loneliness and obsession—make even the less effective fictions here striking.

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 1993

ISBN: 0-87074-354-6

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Southern Methodist Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1993

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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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