Hansen’s novel isn’t a prefeminist commentary, but his awareness of 1920s gender roles gives this familiar story additional...

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A WILD SURGE OF GUILTY PASSION

Acclaimed author Hansen (Exiles, 2008, etc.) revisits the Jazz Age murder plot that inspired James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity.

Why take on a story that’s already been the source for a classic crime novel and film? Partly to move beyond the restrictions of genre fiction: Instead of ventriloquizing noir tropes, Hansen explores the slow path to dissolution that begins with doomed love, as well as the sexism that corseted women faced in the 1920s. The novel fictionalizes the lives of Judd Gray, a lingerie salesman, and Ruth Snyder, the wife of an art director at a Manhattan magazine, who both feel restricted in their marriages (though Hansen deliberately fogs just how abusive Snyder’s husband is). After meeting through a mutual acquaintance, the two pursue an intense affair that lasts more than a year. Their trysts speak to Hansen’s second alteration to the story: His sexual candor gives the book an eroticism and intensity that would have been unthinkable in Cain’s 1943 novel, Double Indemnity, or its film version. The sensual appeal of the affair wears off quickly, though, as Judd slips deeper into alcoholism and Snyder so despairs of her marriage that she begins to consider how her husband might be killed. Hansen brilliantly characterizes the denial and moral degradation that overtake Judd and Snyder, largely through a passive voice; the two don’t do things so much as have things done to them. Yet Hansen never makes them unsympathetic, a feat that’s particularly impressive after they have been arrested for their roles in the death of Snyder’s husband. Describing the Judd-Snyder trial and accompanying media circus, Hansen occasionally lapses into passages of flat-footed journalistic reportage, yet even the dry style serves a purpose: It brings into sharp relief the lurid and sexist coverage of the trial (which made Snyder into a predatory nymphomaniac who snared the hapless Gray), and questions how much Snyder was a victim of her times.

Hansen’s novel isn’t a prefeminist commentary, but his awareness of 1920s gender roles gives this familiar story additional power.

Pub Date: June 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-1755-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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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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