Kushner writes well and plunges us deeply into the disparate worlds of the New York City art scene, European political...

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THE FLAMETHROWERS

A novel of art and politics but also of bikes and speed—not Harleys and drugs, but fine (and fast) Italian motorbikes.

At 21, Reno (who goes by the name of the city she comes from) has graduated with a degree in art from the University of Nevada-Reno, and she does what any aspiring artist would like to—heads to New York City. She gets her kicks by riding a Moto Valera, a magnificent example of Italian engineering. In fact, for one brief shining moment in 1976, she sets a speed record of 308.506 mph on her bike at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. This impressive achievement occurs the year after she’d headed to New York, where she’d taken up with—amazing coincidence—Sandro Valera, scion of the Italian manufacturer of the motorbikes she favors and, like Reno, an aspiring artist in New York. Other coincidences abound—for example, that Reno had had sex with a young man, and they’d agreed not to exchange names, but shortly afterward she finds out he’s a close friend of Sandro’s, and he goes on to play a major role in her life. Kushner spends a considerable amount of time flashing us back to the Valera who founded the firm in the early 20th century, and she updates the fate of the company when Reno and Sandro visit his family home in Italy. There they experience both a huge demonstration and eventually the kidnapping of Sandro’s father, a victim of the political turbulence of the 1970s.

Kushner writes well and plunges us deeply into the disparate worlds of the New York City art scene, European political radicalism and the exhilarating rush of motorcycles.

Pub Date: April 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4391-4200-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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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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