EXILES

THREE SHORT NOVELS

Three impressively varied and dramatic novellas, the first collection of shorter fiction from the author of such novels as Horn of Africa (1980) and Equation for Evil (1996), as well as the acclaimed Vietnam memoir A Rumor of War (1977). The first and longest story, ``Standing In,'' traces the emotional course travelled by Dante Panetta, a young barber who, while returning by Amtrak to Connecticut for his mother's funeral, meets an older married couple—Greer and Julian Rhodes—to whom he finds himself helplessly bound by an ``incredible accident of genetics.'' The ways in which Dante's eerie physical resemblance to their dead son affects both him and them are explored with brisk economy and skillful pacing in a memorable depiction of identity crisis and class conflict. ``Paradise'' describes the volatile impact of a shipwreck survivor on the inhabitants of a small island off the Australian coast. Caputo renders the locals' speech patterns expertly and shifts viewpoints to dazzling effect, creating enormous tension as the disturbed islanders wonder whether the mysterious Anson Barlow is a drug runner, or murderer, or something altogether worse. There's also a splendid surprise ending, in a terrific piece of storytelling that Peter Matthiessen or Robert Stone might well envy. ``In the Forest of the Laughing Elephant'' records a ``rescue mission'' carried out in the jungles of Vietnam by American soldiers whose mess sergeant has been carried away by an enormous tiger. The mission's obsessed leader is determined to exert authority over every enemy, even one motivated by nothing more combative than natural appetite (``It had to be shown who ruled this jungle''). The story is a tour de force: an inventive and haunting parable about men out of their element in a strange and dangerous new land. A possible homage to literary mentors (the novellas respectively recall The Great Gatsby, The Nigger of the ``Narcissus,'' and ``Heart of Darkness''), and the finest work of Caputo's career—a quantum leap beyond his previous fiction.

Pub Date: May 28, 1997

ISBN: 0-679-45038-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1997

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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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