Nevermind the lack of a resolution. The robust affirmation that the pursuit of literature is ennobling is sufficient...

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WOES OF THE TRUE POLICEMAN

The much admired Chilean writer’s final, unfinished novel is a seductive grab bag filled with the mysteries of sexuality and literature. 

Bolaño began work on the novel in the 1980s and revisited it until he died in 2003, at the age of 50. It’s presented here in five sections, of which the first is the most tightly structured, introducing the protagonist and the germ of a plot. Amalfitano is a middle-aged professor of literature and philosophy. The Chilean has spent most of his life on the move, a militant leftist too hot for some campuses. (He also appears in Bolaño’s masterpiece 2666.) It’s not politics but a sex scandal that ends his career at the University of Barcelona. The professor had started attending salons honoring Catalan literature. Their organizer, Padilla, is a young, tough, promiscuous gay man and a committed poet; for him, sex and poetry are indivisible. He seduces Amalfitano, who has never slept with a man before; the love of his life was his dead wife, Edith, who gave him a daughter, Rosa. Fired by the university, Amalfitano finds another position in Santa Teresa, Mexico. The next three sections are much more diffuse. One of them is devoted to the French novelist Arcimboldi. (Vonnegut had Kilgore Trout; Bolaño has the Frenchman.) Amalfitano seeks literary validation for his newfound homosexuality (Mann, Rimbaud) and explains stumblingly to his beautiful teenage daughter that if communism can collapse, so can his heterosexual regime. Rosa, unconvinced, abandons books for videos, an equally shocking volte-face by this lifelong book lover. The final section suggests new problems for Amalfitano in Mexico. The chief of police arranges with his twin, the university president, to have his new professor tailed. A young cop (the titular policeman?) goes to work, but this storyline must compete with Mexican history and a lively exchange of letters between Amalfitano and Padilla.

Nevermind the lack of a resolution. The robust affirmation that the pursuit of literature is ennobling is sufficient recompense.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-374-26674-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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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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