Too many fragments, not enough narrative.



Personal issues underlie and complicate the ideals of an international relief organization in Lee’s ruminative, thoughtful first novel.

Narrator Justine Laxness is herself a citizen of two cultures: China, where she spent much of her childhood as the daughter of wealthy missionary parents, and New York City, where she works (in 1993) for the nonprofit Aquinas Foundation, dedicated “to promot[ing] the intersection of Eastern and Western medicine” throughout the world. Aquinas’s plans are threatened by a Chinese government plan to build a “dam extension” on the Yangtze River, which would flood land reserved for a state-of-the-art “healing center.” And Justine’s own good will becomes increasingly enervated, by conflicts with disapproving bureaucrats, publicity-hungry celebrity donors, the IRS—and her professional relationship with, and helpless love for, her boss Peter (whose own past in China intersects glancingly with her own). Lee conjures affecting images of city vistas and (especially) the embracing presence of the Hudson River, observing such scenes with a deft balance of clinical precision and romantic hyperbole (e.g., demolished “houses come down, crouching at first like injured, long-legged animals, then fully kneeling, bowing their shoulders to the earth”). She also has a knack for introducing new characters at effectively spaced intervals—hatching one nice sequence in which Justine travels to Saskatchewan, where an earth-friendly original script written by her former college friend James is being filmed. But the novel is filled with promising scraps of conflict that are not fully developed—a partial exception being the fiscal brouhaha generated by Justine’s impulsive (and not-quite-credible) decision to invest a chunk of Aquinas’s dwindling capital in the aforementioned film. But we don’t learn enough about her to be sure of this. Only the indirectly characterized Peter, an enigmatic combination of visionary idealist and introverted egoist, seems fully real.

Too many fragments, not enough narrative.

Pub Date: July 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-7665-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2006

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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 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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