Glib fatalism and self-conscious prose obscure a potential talent.



In this murky novel, two tormented characters, on separate quests, find the going rough. 

Old-time country music is Cyrus Harper’s lifeblood, inherited from his mother Ruth, a fiddler and singer until her husband found religion and forbade secular music. That didn’t stop Cyrus and his sister Saro from singing together at gigs in their hometown of Apogee, in the Missouri Ozarks, until she mysteriously disappeared at age 19. Cyrus moved to San Francisco, hoping to find her. The guitarist and singer/songwriter produced one album full of songs of deep gloom. Now more than a decade has passed, Saro is still missing, and Cyrus is drinking heavily; she was his muse. He gets a call from his brother Isaac, a developer who never left Apogee; Ruth is near death. Cyrus returns home, still hoping Saro will show up. His point of view alternates with that of a woman called Margaret Bowman, who is armed and dangerous. Once married to a junkie, they had two kids. The junkie, now dead, killed their small son; Margaret did time as his accomplice. She has skipped parole and is passing through Apogee to retrieve her daughter Madeline from her in-laws. It’s not a rest stop; she will blow the head off a would-be rapist, a high-school football player, and then kill his three harmless buddies, burying them in the woods. A hunt ensues, but Margaret escapes and reaches Madeline’s house, then decides to leave her be, thus calling her mission into question. Her role evidently was to contribute blood and guts to an anemic story line, but it doesn’t work. What does? Well, the novel is authentic in its celebration of dedicated musicians, now gone; its nostalgia is heartfelt. The plotting, though, is ramshackle. The mystery of Saro’s disappearance is solved in a way that’s both lurid and anticlimactic, while Cyrus is overwhelmed by the same trippy visions that had plagued his mother—malevolent hog-eyed men, an authorial indulgence.

Glib fatalism and self-conscious prose obscure a potential talent.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-452-29678-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Plume

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2010

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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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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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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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