“Some writers have less fuel in the tank than others,” one of his characters laments, but Russo himself is chugging along...

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TRAJECTORY

Four brief but potent and surprising tales of midlife crises from the ever dependable Russo (Everybody’s Fool, 2016, etc.).

The main characters in each of these stories are accomplished people who are thrust into what initially seem like modest predicaments. The professor in “Horseman” is dealing with a plagiarizing student; the professor in “Voice” is squabbling with his brother on a vacation in Italy; the real estate agent in “Intervention” is having a hard time moving a hoarder’s home; and the novelist in “Milton and Marcus” is wary of the producers asking him to revisit a screenplay he sketched out years before. But with a keen eye for detail, dashes of humor, and a knack for bouncing his characters’ presents against their pasts, Russo makes these stories robust studies about the regrets they’ve picked up over the years. In “Voice,” the longest and best of this batch, the professor’s estrangement from his brother stokes memories of a recent scandal over his treatment of a closed-off student, which in turn influences his careful flirtation with a woman in his tour group. For the professor in “Horseman,” the bad student is a prompt for her to consider whether her professional coolness has served her well either in academia or her home life. As ever, Russo is superb at finding spots of comedy in these situations. The hoarder’s home has “an espresso machine the size of a snowmobile”; the frustrated screenwriter thinks, “a smart man would’ve left it right there, but he didn’t seem to be around.” This gives the four stories a peculiar sameness; the narration shares a melancholy/buoyant tone regardless of setting. But the autumnal mood fits for these tales of reckonings, and Russo rarely wastes a word, interweaving details and dialogue into master classes on storytelling.

“Some writers have less fuel in the tank than others,” one of his characters laments, but Russo himself is chugging along just fine.

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-94772-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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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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