Three reasons to love Hellenga: He’s a fine storyteller; he gives us new eyes; he restores our sense of wonder. Attention...

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SNAKEWOMAN OF LITTLE EGYPT

He’s an anthology professor. She’s a snake-handling ex-con. What they share, in this gloriously quirky sixth novel from Hellenga (The Italian Lover, 2007, etc.), is a hunger for knowledge.

It’s a time of beginnings. The world is soon to begin a new millennium. The professor, Jackson Jones, again feels vigor after being racked by Lyme Disease. And Sunny is primed for a fresh start after six years in the slammer. Their stories are intriguing. Jackson did his fieldwork in the Forest, in the Congo, living with the Mbuti, or pygmies. He went native, sleeping with a young Mbuti woman; she bore him a daughter; he’s tempted to return. Sunny hails from Little Egypt (southern Illinois). She was only 16 when she married Earl, the pastor of a Pentecostal congregation that handles snakes. When Earl thrust her arm into a box of rattlers, she shot him in self-defense, wounding him, nothing serious. She’s now 35, five years Jackson’s junior; in prison she lost her religious faith but caught up on her education, and is now enrolled at Jackson’s central Illinois university. He offers her the apartment above his garage that belonged to his handyman, her dead uncle. They become lovers; there’s an astonishing scene, Lawrentian in its fervor, that invokes Greek mythology. Then Earl arrives to reclaim his wife. The story proceeds on parallel tracks. There’s a roller coaster involving Jackson, Sunny and Earl, which will climax with a second shooting and trial. Then there’s the story of two unconventional people with open minds. As Sunny gobbles up her courses like a kid in a candy store, Jackson travels to Little Egypt to pursue “salvage anthropology” and observe the charismatic Earl at work. The author affirms the validity of both backwoods magic and scientific inquiry on campus.

Three reasons to love Hellenga: He’s a fine storyteller; he gives us new eyes; he restores our sense of wonder. Attention must be paid.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-60819-262-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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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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