A frenzied yet wistful monologue from a lover of literature under siege.



A hyperliterate prisoner who is barricaded in his sanctuary while a riot unfolds writes his last words.

Well-versed pop-culture writer Chapman (Conversation Sparks, 2015) offers a debut novel that is as eccentric as it comes but also fitfully funny and murderously wry in its humor. Our imprisoned narrator is, as happens in a lot of transgressive comic novels, nameless but for his prison moniker, “MF.” There’s really no character here—we only learn our nameless narrator is an immigrant from Sri Lanka whose previous gig was working as a doorman in New York City—but he serves as a convenient cipher who allows the author to wax poetic about the role of literature in society and the blunt cruelty of the American prison system while enabling his capricious doppelgänger to pen arch reminiscences of his paramours. These include the now-bitterly despised Betsy Pankhurst, with whom, in a flashback, the narrator has an intimately described conjugal visit, and a fellow prisoner named McNairy, with whom he has what he calls a “meet-cute.” It turns out that our narrator is the editor of a popular prison journal aptly dubbed The Holding Pen, and apparently one of his missives has triggered the very riot that now threatens his life. The book is purposefully messy—the prose is breathless, meandering, and riddled with pop-culture references and responses to real-time events on platforms like Instagram and Reddit, which the narrator has access to as editor of the paper—but Chapman demonstrates an arch humor that mimics French existentialism as much as it does traditional American satire. It’s even easy to gain an odd affection for our superarrogant narrator despite his supercilious tone and his sentence, which is, as we learn late in the game, for doing something genuinely terrible. This is certainly not a book for casual readers, but those who appreciate a genuinely original stylist and acidly dark humor will find it an odd treat.

A frenzied yet wistful monologue from a lover of literature under siege.

Pub Date: May 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-9730-7

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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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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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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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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