For people who like very complicated books that you have to read slowly and possibly twice.

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HISTORY. A MESS.

The excitement of breaking a major discovery about 17th-century art turns to terror when an academic rechecks her primary source material.

In a strange coincidence, the publication of Pálsdóttir’s U.S. debut comes close on the heels of a similar situation in real life, as Naomi Wolf’s misinterpretation of a key term in historical documents has led to her forthcoming book’s being delayed and possibly withdrawn. Though not much is straightforward in this difficult novel, translated from the Icelandic, it is clear that the narrator has screwed up big time. After six years of slogging along on her dissertation, she realizes in an epiphanic moment that the diary she's been studying belongs to what is surely Britain’s very first professional female artist. She’s on the brink of publication when she realizes two pages were stuck together, and the entry she failed to read disproves her theory. When she realizes what she's done—and what it means for her future—her tenuous grasp on sanity is loosened. “I no longer know if I’m watching or imagining what’s in front of me,” she writes. She begins to have hallucinations and terrifying daydreams, and these are mixed in with events of her real life in such a way that the reader is similarly hard-pressed to know which is which. We meet her parents (her mother is an important character, the person who knows the most about her project, to whom she planned to dedicate the published book), her lackluster dope of a husband, and her vibrant circle of female friends. We hear about various sad events in her past, including a miscarriage. The ending, though far from happy, is clever and a nice reward for making it through the book. Fans of the nouveau roman—Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, etc.—will be right at home here.

For people who like very complicated books that you have to read slowly and possibly twice.

Pub Date: July 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-940953-98-4

Page Count: 158

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 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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