This novel neatly establishes an emotionally complex situation and presents its characters with difficult decisions to quiet...

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COBALT BLUE

A lodger causes fissures in the relationship between a brother and sister when both find themselves drawn to him in this atmospheric novel.

The scope and setting of Kundalkar’s novel are intentionally intimate and restrained: over the course of this short book, he establishes a comfortable domestic milieu and then introduces the element that will lead to its disruption. Each of the two main characters narrates approximately half of the novel: first, Tanay tells a story of his desire for the boarder who has come to live in his family’s home in Pune, in western India. What follows in the second half is his sister Anuja’s account, told in a diaristic fashion and providing a different perspective on the same events. Tanay addresses his portion of the novel to the unseen boarder, and each half of the novel meticulously establishes the presence of a fundamentally unknowable figure, an agent of change who offers the idealized promise of a different way of life. Throughout the novel, a claustrophobic sense of confinement and obligation battles it out with the prospect of something more freeing. But even that can come with its own flaws, both for those who opt to take it and those who are left behind. There are certain moments where the approach feels heavy-handed: in the English translation, the fact that one minor character, a lawyer, is named “Mr Dixit” borders on the allegorical. It’s one of the few moments in this novel where the mood isn’t understated. The strength of Kundalkar’s work here is in how lived-in it feels—both the setting and the lives of its two protagonists.

This novel neatly establishes an emotionally complex situation and presents its characters with difficult decisions to quiet but devastating effect.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62097-175-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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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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