An ambitious avant-garde experiment that might be generously read as homage.

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DOG SYMPHONY

A professor who studies the history of prison architecture stumbles into a peculiar misadventure while visiting a paramour in Buenos Aires.

In what might just be the strangest transmogrification of a writer in recent memory, Munson (The War Against the Assholes, 2015, etc.) completely abandons the adolescent angst of his first two novels to enter the surreal literary landscape of South America occupied so fully by writers like César Aira and the late Roberto Bolaño. This poetic, Byzantine short novel depicts the travels and increasingly unreliable account of professor Boris Leonidovich, who is invited by his professional colleague and occasional lover, Ana Mariategui, to speak at a conference at the University of Buenos Aires. As he meets new people, the professor identifies himself as “Boris Pasternak,” though, he notes, “No relation to the poet, novelist, and correspondent with Rilke.” What follows evolves into a phantasmagoric nightmare as Leonidovich wanders into a seedy barrio filled with stray dogs and a spooky graveyard. Back at the university, he finds students divided into camps, half wearing dog tags and broadcasting a hypnotic chorus the professor dubs “Dog Symphony” while protestors proclaim, “Ethics first, then meat.” When Ana disappears, Leonidovich seeks out Sanchis Mira, the conference organizer and head of the mysterious Department of Social Praxis, before encountering profound violence in the streets of Buenos Aires at the hands of an underground insurgency. Soon, this already outlandish narrative becomes as unhinged as its narrator as it hurtles toward an ambiguous, Kafka-esque denouement. Fans of Aira will find a curiously analogous style at work here, though whether it captures the Argentine writer’s humorous spark is questionable. For Munson, it’s a departure so abrupt that one wonders what inspired such a finely curated, grotesquely styled take on Argentine modernism.

An ambitious avant-garde experiment that might be generously read as homage.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2768-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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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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