Wright did not live to resolve the dilemma thus created. Furthermore, A Father’s Law is astonishingly awkwardly written, and...

A FATHER’S LAW

When Richard Wright (1908–60) died, much too young and essentially a stranger in his own country who had found a more congenial “home” in postwar Paris, he was remembered, if at all, as a transitional figure. Between the handful of respected black American authors (such as Charles W. Chesnutt, Claude Mackay and Langston Hughes) and the later, more abrasive achievements of James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, John Edgar Wideman and others, there were Wright’s major books. His powerhouse debut novel Native Son, the bitter short stories collected as Uncle Tom’s Children, the impassioned autobiography Black Boy—all now enshrined in the Library of America—bore electrifying witness to the enduring relevance of a writer who made it his life’s mission to dramatize his people's struggles against racist intolerance and injustice.

Now comes A Father’s Law, a never-before-published, unfinished novel. The book was written during Wright’s last illness, which perhaps explains its ungainly, virtually inchoate state. In an introduction to the work, Wright’s daughter, Julia, candidly describes it as a “faulty, sketchy, sometimes repetitive draft.” The book attempts something genuinely new in his oeuvre—a metaphysical crime thriller—and it eerily echoes its author’s own experience. The story begins when veteran black Chicago policeman Rudolph “Ruddy” Turner is summoned to his station late at night and informed that he has been appointed Police Chief. The complication: A series of unsolved murders in the “independent municipality” of Brentwood Park, a hotbed of gambling, prostitution and worse, has become a number-one police priority. Ruddy’s problems are exacerbated at home, in his troubled relationship with his college-age son Tommy, a gifted student and athlete whose renegade intellect questions the legitimacy of laws his father is sworn to uphold—and gradually raises Ruddy’s suspicions that Tommy is implicated in the murders. For Tommy, like the young Richard Wright, has broken off his engagement to a girl afflicted with congenital syphilis (the story is briefly told in Michel Fabre’s 1993 biography The Unfinished Quest of Richard Wright). Was Tommy driven to crime, his father agonizes? Or was he attempting to seek punishment he felt he deserved, even for crimes he did not commit?

Wright did not live to resolve the dilemma thus created. Furthermore, A Father’s Law is astonishingly awkwardly written, and would surely not have been offered for publication without major revisions. Still, it lurks in Wright’s harsh oeuvre: a perhaps impenetrable enigma. We cannot salute it as major, even as significant work. But we can understand why Julia Wright thought we needed to see it.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-134916-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

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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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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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