The youth doesn’t have the spirit to carry this tale of woe.

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FRESH FIELDS

In Kocan’s latest bleak novel (The Treatment and the Cure, 1985, etc.), a teenager, down and out in Australia, is sustained by his fantasies.

Three people arrive at the train station of a large city: The woman, the youth and the boy. We don’t know their names, nor that of the city. They are fleeing Vladimir, an abusive husband and father. The 14-year-old youth knows he doesn’t have the will to fight him. What inner strength he has derives from Diestl, a German soldier in a war movie. The Germans have lost, and Diestl is on enemy terrain, but he still has his Schweisser sub-machine-gun. Diestl the self-reliant loner consoles the youth through thick and thin. The youth gets a job in the country, on a sheep ranch, while his mother finds work elsewhere upstate. He’s a slow learner, and his boss is short-tempered; he’s fired. He doesn’t fare any better on a wheat farm, or as a cleaner at a movie theater (let go because he smells bad). Daytimes he’s in parks or visiting museums; some nights he finds crummy hotels, others he sleeps on the street. His thoughts revolve around Diestl, the Anglo-Saxon King Harold (another outnumbered hero) and pin-up Grace Kelly. He cries a lot—the least thing sets him off—and he’s never had a girlfriend. There are opportunities to explore his sexuality (with a girl on the wheat farm, with some gay guys he meets while clipping cotton), but Kocan’s not interested in that coming-of-age story. That wouldn’t matter if he replaced it with something else, but he doesn’t, so we get a slow fizzle. One fellow lodger says the youth is “a young tiger that doesn’t know whether to hide or kill,” and the youth does buy a rifle, but Kocan, who in 1966 attempted to assassinate an Australian politician and subsequently spent time in a hospital for the criminally insane, must have a problem imagining his crybaby pulling the trigger, for he leaves everything up in the air.

The youth doesn’t have the spirit to carry this tale of woe.

Pub Date: May 1, 2007

ISBN: 1-933372-29-X

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

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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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