An ultimately unknowable hero in extreme and hopeless situations makes a tough read for non-pessimists.

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NOBLE NORFLEET

A modern master takes a gloomy look at the damage wrought by mental illness.

Noble Norfleet, senior in a small North Carolina high school, member of the track team, polite oldest son of a vanished father and difficult mother, wakes one morning after a pleasant and instructive romp with his Spanish teacher to discover his brother and sister dead in their beds, having been ice-picked in their sleep by their mother, who could have done in the exhausted Noble, too, but didn’t. This is not a total surprise for Noble. Edith Norfleet has exhibited psychotic symptoms for years, but, this being the ’60s and the pre-Republican South, she’s been pretty much left to make life hell for her family. The prolific Price (A Perfect Friend, 2000, etc.) follows his square-shooting but, alas, humorless young hero through the process of committing Edith to the state facility and getting on with his life. There is unsatisfactory contact with his only close relative, an unhelpful uncle, more satisfactory contact with the Spanish teacher, whose nice husband is in Vietnam, helpful dealings with the crusty black lady who used to clean for Edith, and some surprising counseling sessions with the local minister, who is every bit as attracted to the handsome young lad as the Spanish teacher was. Noble’s cooperation with the clergyman leads to a slightly spooky weekend at the beach and further tragedy. The Spanish teacher returns to her own incestuous family. Time moves on. Noble enlists in the army, becomes a medic, visits Edith occasionally, goes to war, has more slightly spooky experiences, becomes a nurse, and learns over time that black people never let him down and that he’s happiest in one-sided sexual contact with women (he’s the worker—they just have to lie back and relax), only to find that that’s not enough for most women.

An ultimately unknowable hero in extreme and hopeless situations makes a tough read for non-pessimists.

Pub Date: June 18, 2002

ISBN: 0-7432-0417-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2002

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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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