HOW THE BODY PRAYS

A cleanly written multigenerational story that chronicles one family’s disintegration as the outcome of its pride and suffering. Narrated by eight different voices, Weltner’s fourth work of fiction (The Risk of His Music, 1997, etc .) is remarkably seamless, his complex account constructed and supported by each of eight links in a narrative chain. The saga is a melancholy one: the Odom family has always lived according to rigidly demanding rules, usually summed up in a Latin phrase. Drew Odom, however, violates one such precept by having two sons, Aaron and Andy. Aaron, an accomplished musician and a ’60s-era pacifist, is his father’s favorite, while Andy—proud and combative’seems to be his grandmother’s darling. After Andy enlists for the War, Aaron reluctantly follows; though Aaron is killed, Andy survives his own wartime wounds to wander from job to job in the States, torn by his guilty failure to live up to Odom standards. Although a passion for the music of Wagner, Bach, and Bloch has always formed a part of Odom life, Andy harbors a “tin ear.” Only after he takes a lover and is reconciled with his brother’s Vietnamese wife and son does he truly begin to heal. The tale culminates when he arranges a performance of music written by Aaron Rose, the friend from his father’s youth for whom his brother was named. The Odoms” unrelenting standard of duty and courage turns out to be a measure of its failure. While Weltner isn—t the most commanding observer of musical experience, music’s virtue as redemption is made clear, even if readers may not be sufficiently convinced to share in the comforts through which the family finds relief. Weltner is a fine writer, and his narrative range is impressive. But while there are several moving moments, his colorless descriptions of music—the Odoms” spiritual balm—make the redemptions seem distant.

Pub Date: May 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-55597-288-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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