As if the Bukowski corpus was watered down for television.

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LATER, AT THE BAR

A NOVEL IN STORIES

Drunks do stupid things in this debut.

In “Snow Fever,” diner cook Bill Kane embarks on a drunken orgy of cooking, trying to express in seafood what he can’t say in words. Linda Hartley is an advice columnist with problems of her own, mostly with romance; in “Love Him, Petaluma,” she leads a sad-sack Easter parade from one tavern to another. Harlin Wilder is a ne’er-do-well’s ne’er-do-well: Not only has he been incarcerated for his own mostly petty, mostly avoidable crimes, but, in “Newspaper Clipping,” he ends up in jail after his twin brother, Cyrus, steals some chicken wings. These characters are just a few of the regulars at Lucy’s, a bar in small-town upstate New York. All of them are losers of more or less the same type; that is, they are men and women whose defining quality is being a bar regular. To call the tales of their misadventures and misdeeds “A Novel in Stories” is misleading. The stories do share a common setting, but there is no unifying narrative, nor is there a dynamic interaction between the stories that would make this collection more than the sum of its parts. When she shifts focus to allow a new character to take center stage, Barry offers a peripheral view of her cast of regulars, but this new perspective offers no new insight; it simply reinforces what we already know about them. Indeed, readers get to know these characters about as well as barflies get to know each other. We learn what they boast about and what they complain about; we learn who’s slept with whom; and we learn what everybody likes to drink. But we never see these characters as real people. Instead, they remain cogs in a wan assortment of tritely quirky and supposedly illuminating anecdotes.

As if the Bukowski corpus was watered down for television.

Pub Date: May 1, 2007

ISBN: 1-4165-3524-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2007

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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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