It's one thing to have the reader's sympathy and another to hold the reader's interest.



Canadian fiction writer Heti (How Should a Person Be?, 2012, etc.) delves into the vexed question of motherhood and what the choice between having or not having a child means, culturally and personally.

The novel opens with a series of questions that are answered by the flipping of three coins in an I Ching–based technique. A note at the beginning assures the reader that "while not everything in books is true, in this book, all results from the flipping of coins are true." Worryingly, the first question posed is: "Is this book a good idea?" "Yes," the coins reply. The narrator is a published writer filled with anguish and uncertainty about the possibility of motherhood, among other things. In addition to flipping coins for the answers to questions such as "What should I be worried about? My soul?" and "Should I begin to personify this demon that brings me bad dreams?" she consults a psychic, has a tarot reading, and talks with friends, reporting every mood, dream, worry, and conversation. There are photographs and descriptions of the writing process. The author is a writer and so is the narrator! What is fiction, and what is truth?! But no amount of metafictional smoke and mirrors can make up for the absence of a compelling story. Eventually she goes on medication. "The drugs really seem to be working....Yet I fear I don't have the right to speak anymore, given these drugs. I can't pretend I have come to any answers, or any great realizations, because I am taking these drugs. I think the drugs are the reason I am feeling less bad." "Am I annoyed?" she continues. "Am I disappointed? A little bit, yes. I wanted my own magic to get rid of the pain." Some readers may find this unfiltered self-absorption helpful. Others will remember the question posed at the book's beginning and conclude that the I Ching is not the best arbiter of literary merit. "What kind of story is created when a person goes down, down, down and down—but instead of breaking through and seeing the truth and ascending, they go down, then they take drugs, and then they go up?" If you have to ask....

It's one thing to have the reader's sympathy and another to hold the reader's interest.

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-627-79077-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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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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