A small masterpiece, possessed of a relentless lucidity that recalls Conrad and Graham Greene at their peaks. Stone’s best...

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BAY OF SOULS

Faulknerian intensity and a narrative economy reminiscent of Hemingway distinguish Stone’s bloodcurdling seventh outing (Damascus Gate, 1998, etc.), a tale that charts a midwestern college professor’s compulsive path toward self-destruction.

In a magnificent opening chapter, Stone introduces Michael Ahearn, living in Iron Falls, Minnesota, with his wife Kristin and preadolescent son Paul, and seeking the kind of “bliss” he intuits from the vitalist tradition in American fiction (his specialty) in heavy drinking and occasional hunting trips. Returning from one such trip, Michael learns that Paul has almost frozen to death and Kristin has injured herself rescuing him. This incident, and other indistinctly ominous particulars (a dropped flashlight, a slain deer’s carcass carried in a wheelbarrow), foreshadow Ahearn’s hallucinatory free fall, conceived as “the purifying effect of struggle,” but realized as obsessive infatuation with an alluring colleague, political-science professor Lara Purcell. Michael follows Lara to the embattled Caribbean island of St. Trinity, ostensibly so that she can attend a “ceremony of reclamation” for the soul of her late brother, an AIDS victim, and sell their family’s property: the Bay of Souls Hotel. Instead, Lara succumbs to the irrational power of the island’s voudon culture, and Michael—coincidentally an experienced diver—is persuaded to brave the depths of a coral reef, where an airplane carrying mysterious contraband has sunk. An ongoing island war, a “peacekeeping” military junta, unidentified American interests, Colombian militias, and various adventurers and burnt-out cases are the ingredients of a compact sulfurous melodrama whose working-out convinces the mesmerized Ahearn that St. Trinity is in fact hell (and Lara its likely agent), nor is he out of it. A perfectly calibrated ironic final chapter brings the story to a stunning full-circle conclusion.

A small masterpiece, possessed of a relentless lucidity that recalls Conrad and Graham Greene at their peaks. Stone’s best yet.

Pub Date: April 22, 2003

ISBN: 0-395-96349-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2003

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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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