A clever, creepy drama about paranoia and control.


The Private and Public Life of King Able

Keen (Love Poems for Cannibals, 2013) portrays two days in the life of a paranoid king in this debut play.

King Able is the nominal ruler of his kingdom, but it’s vague how much power he actually possesses. It’s unclear, even, whether he has any subjects or courtiers; in Keen’s minimalist three-scene play, Able is the sole speaker, and the only other characters are masked men who spend much of the drama leering out from the background, seen by the audience but not by Able himself. Able’s powerlessness is on display as his royal requests go unanswered: “Where is the royal catalogue? (Pause. Flamboyance continues.) Where is the royal thermometer? (Pause.) Bring in the royal book of phrases. (Long pause.) Where is the court prognosticator? (Pause.)” The play highlights his insecurity during his daily radio address to the kingdom; he’s able to keep his composure during his prepared remarks, but when he’s unable to shut down the microphone afterward, his demeanor cracks into a paranoid rant that includes his suspicions that the queen is keeping him prisoner. He eventually decides to make an escape, but the trap he’s in—whether built by the queen or simply by the playwright—won’t release its prey so easily. Although the king’s frantic dialogue lies at the heart of the play, Keen’s precise set and stage directions are arguably more central to its themes, execution, and emotional resonance. The long silences, use of audio recordings, and simultaneous actions on different parts of the stage reveal the work as not a series of monologues but rather an intricately orchestrated puzzle. Readers are left to simply imagine the effect of all of this in a live venue, which strips the printed text of some of its power. Upon reaching the end of this short drama, they will want nothing more than to see a staged production of it, particularly its final moments. Still, for such a brief work, Keen manages to pack in an impressive amount of tension and implication, leaving readers to question who’s really pulling the strings.

A clever, creepy drama about paranoia and control. 

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4937-8577-3

Page Count: 36

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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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 strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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