Clever literary games.

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AWAYLAND

Eleven stories laced with humorous developments, mythic tendencies, and magical realist premises.

Ausubel (Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, 2016, etc.) is, at heart, a fabulist, and the current collection puts this impulse in the forefront. The stories are grouped in four sections with geographical names—Bay of Hungers, The Cape of Persistent Hope, The Lonesome Flats, and The Dream Isles. Among the “hungers” is a funny piece previously published in the New Yorker: an online dating profile filled out by a Cyclops. It is followed by a more melancholy tale: a woman’s mother is inexorably fading away—not metaphorically, but actually disappearing. Third is “Template for a Proclamation to Save the Species,” in which a Midwestern mayor tries to address his town’s declining population by declaring a designated sex day and offering a prize—a tiny white Ford economy car—for babies born exactly nine months later. The stories in the next section continue the baby theme. “Mother Land” seems to be about the sister of the woman whose mother faded away, though this appears to be the only such linkage among the stories. She has a baby with a white African man, in Africa, and feels very cut off from her real life. In “Departure Lounge,” a woman quits her job as chef to a space program project being carried out on the crater of a volcano in Hawaii to attempt to get pregnant with an old college boyfriend. It turns out high-tech measures will be required. Many of the stories are both interesting and amusing; some are a little juvenile, like “Remedy,” a silly yarn about lovers whose doomed love drives them to have a transplant operation. But this is followed by one of the gems of the collection, "Club Zeus," narrated by a young man who works at a mythology-themed resort. “Most of the staff is Ukrainian, but I’m from California. My job is to be the Wizened Storyteller…. I sit in a hut all day and tell Greek myths to whoever comes in.”

Clever literary games.

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59463-490-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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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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