KNIFE EDGE

German poet Rothmann's first is a poet's novel—spare, elliptical, shot through with recurring images and strong descriptive passages. The narrative moves lightly and briskly, the characters have sharp outlines but no depth. Translated now (at times with excessive literalness), the book reads like an artifact of the late cold war years, a symptom rather than a real exploration of attitudes current in Germany ca. 1986. It's a time, in West Berlin, of violent demonstrations against the huge buildup of American nuclear stockpiles in Germany. The hero takes no part in the protests, although he does give shelter briefly to fugitives from police brutality. His heart's in the right place; he just can't act on his convictions. He's a halfhearted writer, a part-time cab driver, the last holdover tenant in a building being gentrified: in short, a hanger-on, a dangling man, an old familiar note from the underground. Then he falls in love with a beauty named Iris. They vacation in Tuscany. She gets pregnant. But during the crucial act of love in an Italian meadow, the hero is watching a farm family down the hill slaughter a pig. Life and death, women's menstrual blood, and men's attraction to bloodshed, all are recurring themes. But it's hard to tell when Rothmann is mocking trendy clichÇs about nurturing woman vs. murderous man, and when he's being serious. His hero drops a trail of leaden aphorisms. Sometimes they're rebutted, too often they're left to stand. In the end, Rothmann's hero can't commit himself either to fatherhood or violence, although he thinks of stabbing a brutal, arrogant American soldier. When the poet describes a Turkish street-sweeper, an Italian farmer, a Berlin sunset, he's vivid and suggestive. When he turns inward, his vision is clouded by last week's newspaper and the whole existentialist bookshelf. In all: Ann Beattie with an overlay of Middle European angst.

Pub Date: May 27, 1992

ISBN: 0-8112-1204-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1992

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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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