Tragedy in the process of being wrought, with great seriousness, into cartoon and melodrama.

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FIGHTING GRAVITY

Rambach offers a debut based on having been the last wife, for a time, of the late writer André Dubus. But, though the events are drawn from real ones, they don't gain the wholeness of a novel, and neither character lifts more than perfunctorily from the page.

Ellie Rifkin is 19 when writer Gerard Babineau—in his 40s, a father, twice divorced—gives a lecture at her college, is drawn to Ellie's looks and manner, enters her bed, takes perverse pleasure in hooking her on cigarettes, before long makes her his third wife. That characters may have a compelling interest in one another doesn't, unfortunately, mean they'll be equally interesting to readers, and, though Ellie's judgment may be pardoned by merit of her great youth, it doesn't mean that Babineau will charm all others with his hyper-manly swagger, bluster, and aggressively plain talk (with Ellie for the first time: "I do believe you momentarily did stir Peter Pecker from his deep slumber"). The dread fact at the heart of the tale, of course, is the car accident that, in reward for simply being a Good Samaritan, cost Babineau (as it did the real Dubus) one leg and most of the other. The accident and Babineau's long and largely failed struggle to recover from it are described with unflagging vividness, yet this very fact serves to pull the novel away from its greater subject and toward its lesser one—away from a portrayal of the man as thinker, intellectual, and artist, and toward him merely as tormented case study. He drinks hard, swears a lot, loves guns, has religious faith, eventually beats Ellie in an act of awful destruction—but of his art, or his dedication to it, or what it was inside the man that made him unique, we're left with nothing to tell us much of anything.

Tragedy in the process of being wrought, with great seriousness, into cartoon and melodrama.

Pub Date: April 7, 2001

ISBN: 1-58642-023-2

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Steerforth

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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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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