Warm-hearted yet unsentimental, a smooth weave of marital and neighborhood dynamics.

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THE HEIGHTS

A husband is tempted to cheat, and a happy marriage is threatened in the most successful novel yet from Hedges, best known as the author (and later director) of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1991).

The title refers to Brooklyn’s choicest neighborhood, home to alternating narrators Kate and Tim Welch. Young marrieds with two small sons, they love the kid-friendly Heights but are struggling to stay afloat; Tim’s salary teaching history at a local academy just isn’t enough. They’re both refugees from difficult parents, Tim fleeing a tyrannical basketball coach, Kate a hippie mother all drugs and drama. After nine years, their “great, ordinary love” still glows. There’s nothing ordinary, though, about Anna Brody, the newest young mother on the scene and the story’s catalyst. Anna is beautiful, rich and impulsive. Her husband Philip, a self-effacing financial titan, has just bought her the grandest house in the neighborhood, a virtual palace. Her arrival coincides with changes for Tim and Kate. A former employer of Kate’s has offered her a fabulous six-figure position doling out grant money, and Tim has agreed to take a year off, look after the boys and work on his much-delayed dissertation. Hedges has fun showing Tim’s admission into the tightly knit circle of playground mothers and his growing fascination with Anna, less a femme fatale then a troubled soul battling a promiscuous husband. Spontaneously, she makes Tim a one-time offer: a weekend at a Manhattan hotel. Tim goes to church and prays for signs; God is encouraging. Readers by now are so invested in the Welch marriage that the will-he-or-won’t-he? suspense creates page-turning momentum. A parallel story line involves the reappearance of Kate’s old flame, a very bad, very successful TV actor, and a trip to Disney World. Hedges brings a touch of farce into the many twists before the climax.

Warm-hearted yet unsentimental, a smooth weave of marital and neighborhood dynamics.

Pub Date: March 4, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-525-95113-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2009

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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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