GLYPH

Grabbing academia where it hurts the most, by its swollen, unintelligible poststructuralist theories, the prolific Everett (Frenzy, 1997, etc.) uses a most unlikely foil: a genius baby who reads and writes but refuses to speak, striking fear into his parents and all those who kidnap him for their own nefarious ends. Baby Ralph, born with his formidable intellect ready for higher stimulation, is opposed to speech on aesthetic and philosophical grounds. Having no such scruples against writing, however, and feeling himself loved by his frustrated-artist mother, he begins composing notes to her (“ralph needs books in his crib ralph does not wish to rely on the moving lips for knowledge”), and once she gets over her shock, like a true mother she nurtures him. Meanwhile, his father—a pompous academic who fawns over Roland Barthes, bringing him home for supper—at first believes Ralph to be mildly retarded. But he’s in for trouble once he realizes that his son really is not only smarter than he is but able to blackmail him over an affair Daddy’s having with a graduate student. The shrink these parents find for Ralph can’t accept what he is either, but even so decides to kidnap him, hiding him away until she can use him to (she hopes) make her famous. From her mean-spirited, alcoholic clutches, he falls into the hands of a top-secret military intelligence group that wants him for a spy. But then Ralph is saved from his maximum-security prison cell by his guard, a quiet Latino who smuggles him home after Ralph writes that he misses his mother. Through all this, including a final free-for-all that involves his previous captors, the Catholic Church, and Ferdinand Marcos, the baby wonder is developing into a full-blown cynic who finds Lacan helpful for potty training and uses Aristotelian logic to deconstruct what’s real and what’s fiction. A smart, rollicking sendup, but to grasp it all requires patience and an insider’s knowledge of the deconstructionist game—making it a story not for everyone.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-55597-296-9

Page Count: 218

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1999

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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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