CHILDREN OF LIGHT

A no less bitterly puckered but a more firmly focused book than A Flag for Sunrise, the jaundiced eye here is upon Hollywood and movie-making, an atmosphere utterly (as is always the case with Stone, who is the great drug-plague chronicler of our literature) brain-blown and demoralized by cocaine. Gordon Walker is a toot-ruined screenwriter whose wife has left him, who has spent some numb weeks on stage as Lear (in Seattle); and who, at the end of his rope, gets the spectacularly bad idea of visiting the set of a movie he'd done the script for (a version of Kate Chopin's novel, The Awakening), now being filmed in Mexico. It's an especially tragic idea because he's actually going to see an old love, the film's star, Lee Verger—and Lee's in no shape to handle him. She's in no shape to handle herself; her psychiatrist-husband and her children having left after a visit, Lee has decided to try to do the film while not taking her anti-psychotic medication, pills she must take if she is to keep at bay her palpable, visible-to-her demons, the "Long Friends" ("Never in her life had she seen the Long Friends so unafraid of sound or light, almost ready to join her in the greater world and make the two worlds one. Seeing them gathered around, shyly peering from between their lace-like wings, murmuring encouragement. . ."). Walker's arrival can only make her worse, make her descent steeper; and in his own cocaine-hell, he follows. Stone is at his most baroquely hyperbolic in the Walker/Lee Verger scenes. They speak a kind of oblique Scripture of the thoroughly damned, and build up together to a climactic primal scene of degradation and self-destruction, the kind of thing Stone seems usually to end his books with (not really successfully). There are bruises to some of the prose, a kind of mock-Chandler sentimentality, too: "She was always looking for the inside story. . . Maybe there was more to it, he thought. Maybe she cares." And yet Stone's genius is truly concentrated, in certain sections here, in what he does better than any other contemporary American: the ugly conversation. It's carried on almost exclusively by the various parts of the film-making crew, especially the talk of the callow, callous, amoralist director (who, though he absolutely knows better, insists on treating Lee Verger as an "halucineÉ," out to milk her madness of whatever will benefit the performance he seeks) and his retinue. They're a cast of gargoyles, the film crew, whom no other writer could probably get to talk more frighteningly, with more implicit horror. As one of them says passingly to another: "There are people at this table who can vulgarize pure light." It's one of the creepiest, most unredeemed of Hollywood novels. The central duo—Walker and Lee Verger—are a touch overblown—Lucia-like operatics, semi-innocents in the maelstrom—but the book always knows who its own "Long Friends" are: the ghouls on the set.

Pub Date: March 28, 1986

ISBN: 0679735933

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1986

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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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