The aching loneliness of almost every character is subtly and movingly depicted as generations of weak parenting and secrecy...

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HOPE FARM

A hippie commune called Hope Farm offers neither hope nor farming to its bedraggled residents.

“The crops had failed, the goats were gone, the compost was rotten, but still they stayed, these people. I suppose they had nowhere better to go. It was the eighties—they were a dying breed.” Frew’s (House of Sticks, 2011) second novel is an Australian cousin of T.C. Boyle’s Drop City, Lauren Groff’s Arcadia, and other novels about the failures of communal living, with additional connections to Esther Freud’s Hideous Kinky and Ian McEwan’s Atonement. The book follows two narrative paths in parallel. One is the unedited journal of a sexually abused teenager who becomes pregnant and is shipped off by her parents to have her baby in secret and give it up for adoption. She decides she’s not going to do it and fortunately has kept the number of a woman she met in a park who told her to call for help anytime. Taken in by this woman and her orange-robed spiritual community, the new mother changes her name and disappears from her old life. The second thread is the story of a 13-year-old girl named Silver and her young, beautiful mother, Ishtar. “It’s hard to remember much from before Hope,” Silver explains. “We lived in so many places—and in my memory they’ve merged to form a kind of hazy, overlapping backdrop.” Every time her mother gets a new boyfriend, they’re off to another ramshackle setup, but this time, Ishtar says, they’ll move on by themselves, leaving for an adventure overseas. Then along comes a man named Miller, and Ishtar is swept up in yet another short-lived sexual swoon. Hope Farm is where Silver’s patience with her mother runs out, with explosive results.

The aching loneliness of almost every character is subtly and movingly depicted as generations of weak parenting and secrecy take their toll.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-947534-72-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribe

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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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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