An actor adept at entertaining and holding an audience shows himself a novelist gifted with the same skills. The book is not...

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ART IN AMERICA

The actor-playwright turned novelist offers a hefty slice of Americana-inflected entertainment in his latest novel (Traveler, 2007, etc.).

After offering a laboriously comic itinerary of its NYC author-protagonist Steven Kearney’s numerous unpublishable novels and plays, McLarty settles into a rich characterization of a hopeful loser bereft of both literary success and his angry girlfriend. Steven is thrown a lifeline when the town of Creedemore, Colo., offers him a lucrative residency in return for writing a historical play about the area’s storied origins. So it’s off to Creedemore, where Steven is greeted by an officious spinster and introduced to Creedemore’s eccentric populace. Brisk short chapters move things along smartly, and action abounds, as a range war of sorts erupts between near-centenarian feed-store mogul and landowner Ticky Lettgo (we’re not making this up) and “Mountain Man” Red Fields, an environmentalist Age-of-Aquarian planning to offer adventurous river rafting trips through waters Ticky claims are also his exclusive property. Add in juxtaposed peeks back east, where Steven’s buddies Roarke (a lesbian actress-director) and Tubby (a Falstaffian construction worker) keep tabs on his western adventures, and you have a cheerfully overstuffed tale whose ungainly bulk is redeemed by energetic prose and busy comic detail. There are also loud protests, some politically inspired, others motivated by sheer cussedness; lively courtroom battles; a bomb threat or two; and an overload of macho posturing (some of it performed by female characters). Vivid characters pop up frequently, including a transplanted Eastern sheriff (a man of reason serving where unreason rules), a foulmouthed reverend and a man known as “Cowboy Poet,” a tireless fount of hilarious doggerel. And there’s a corker of a climax, during which we’re treated to the memorable opening scenes of Steven’s commissioned sagebrush masterpiece.

An actor adept at entertaining and holding an audience shows himself a novelist gifted with the same skills. The book is not a masterpiece, but it’s an immensely engaging and winning performance.

Pub Date: July 7, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-670-01895-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2008

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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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