If you're looking for a book that will make you gasp out loud, you’ve found it.

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FLOWERS OF MOLD & OTHER STORIES

In even the most mundane lives, spectacular and shocking things can happen.

This is a collection of 10 unsettling short stories by Korean author Ha (Traversing Afternoon, 2017), one of the new wave of Korean women writers, thoughtfully translated by Hong. Ha has a gift for infusing elements of the fantastic into her tales of unremarkable people. Her protagonists are housewives, schoolgirls, and seemingly bland office workers whose daily lives eventually veer off into the surreal, the macabre, or the downright bizarre. Like those of the American auteur David Lynch, Ha’s characters seem to exist in another dimension. As these stories unfold, things become more surreal and eccentric. In the title story, “Flowers of Mold,” the hero, or maybe antihero, is a man who meticulously searches through his neighbors’ garbage bags looking for clues to their lives and personalities. His fervor goes up a notch when he becomes obsessed with his next-door neighbor and her ex-boyfriend. “Waxen Wings” is a modern retelling of the tale of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun, from the perspective of a former female gymnast. She longs to fly but grows too tall to compete and finds a much more extreme alternative. “Your Rearview Mirror” is the story of a department store security guard’s obsession with a pretty female customer who he eventually discovers has more than one dark secret. “The Woman Next Door” begins with a polite request to borrow a spatula and ends in a spiral of jealousy, shoplifting, and possibly madness. Even though this is a book of short stories, it’s definitely a page-turner, as readers encounter one strange, unsettling saga after another, always wondering, “What can possibly happen now?”

If you're looking for a book that will make you gasp out loud, you’ve found it.

Pub Date: April 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-940953-96-0

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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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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