Kispert blends sharp characterization with intriguing premises throughout this memorable collection.

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I KNOW YOU KNOW WHO I AM

The characters in Kispert’s debut collection grapple with chaotic lives, troubled memories, and shifting identities.

The narrator of the title story pays a man to act out the role of a fictional friend from the tales he's told his boyfriend about his life before they met. This sets in motion a cascading series of events that prompts a meditation on the paradoxical nature of “true stories,” which in turn casts a long shadow over the rest of the book. The next story is “Puncture,” whose second sentence feels like a reaction to "I Know You Know": “Clark is color blind, or so he’s telling me.” Kispert wrestles with grand themes, but he’s equally adept at memorable miniatures. In “Signs,” he makes effective use of brevity, creating power both in what’s told and what’s left out. The collection’s first section, called "I Know," abounds with scenes of deception, so when the second section, "You Know," opens with a story narrated by an actor, it seems like the logical next step. The final story, “Mooring,” plays out with echoes of the opener, not unlike a strange remix. It’s all in keeping with Kispert's attention to the border between fiction and reality. While his depictions of contemporary life are wholly immersive, he also displays a talent for the speculative. Kyle, the protagonist of “How to Live Your Best Life,” inhabits a marginal existence with his partner, Jerry, and their daughter, Chloe. In between acts of petty theft, he ponders whether they should appear on a game show that’s a blend of The Newlywed Game and Family Feud, albeit with potentially lethal consequences. And in “Rorschach,” live crucifixions carried out on death-row inmates garbed as Jesus have become a hot ticket around the country.

Kispert blends sharp characterization with intriguing premises throughout this memorable collection.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-14-313428-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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