A taut, appealing, and often quite funny exploration of existential angst.

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THE PRESIDENT'S ROOM

Every house in the country keeps a room ready in case the president should need it. He never enters most of them, so what happens when the president does come to call and an ordinary boy from an ordinary house becomes “the boy the president visited,” singled out by an attention he cannot hope to understand?

In his first novel to be translated into English, Argentine writer Romero advances a conversation begun by Camus, Kafka, and Calvino. Every household here keeps a carefully curated room set aside in anticipation of the president’s visit. Though the poorer apartments in the city center do not adhere to this tradition, the book’s teenage narrator, an avatar of unconscious suburban affluence, assures the reader that every house “owned by people like us” keeps a room reserved or “they lose their privileges.” What these privileges are no one knows. How the custom began no one remembers. Just as no one recalls what led to this unnamed country’s banning basements in the narrator’s grandparents’ time because “terrible things used to happen before, in the basements,” and no one seems to quite know how old the president is, how long he has been in power, or anything else about him other than the size of his nose, which “looks like a potato, and…that’s why he has a moustache.” In this way, Romero weaves together the implacably known world of late childhood—a place of favorite household nooks, favorite vantages in front yard trees, uncontemplated routines that are ordered according to the mysterious reasoning of parents and teachers—with all that is impossible to know about the adult world that looms on the narrator’s horizon. Romero’s unnamed narrator is believable and affecting—filled with the bodily insouciance of his age as he shinnies up trees and pads around the house in the dark—but also afflicted with the feverish dread of the eternal questions: Why this life? Why these customs? When the president finally does come to make use of his room, the narrator is pushed out of observation and into a kind of nebulous action, coming to no definitive conclusions but placing himself in a position where enlightenment will have to find him, if only because he is standing in its way.

A taut, appealing, and often quite funny exploration of existential angst.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9997227-2-2

Page Count: 82

Publisher: Charco Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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