The food here is terrible, and the portions are too small.

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ALICE, THE SAUSAGE

From the Italian-born author, now a Paris resident, an unappetizing little tale about a young woman; this is Jabès’ first book to be published in the U.S.

When Alice saunters through the streets of Rome, old men and boys on scooters stop to stare. When another woman compliments her on her extravagant high heels, Alice offers shy, but pleased, thanks. When she looks in the mirror, Alice loves what she sees—until her father tells her, “If you’re a woman, you’re either beautiful, or you’re nice…You are not beautiful, so you must be…nice.” In an attempt to restore the sense of self destroyed by this casually cruel statement, Alice begins eating. In her effort to be nice to men, Alice becomes a prostitute. These two phenomena coalesce—rather stickily—in a unique sexual specialty: Alice performs fellatio while eating. This makes her very popular with a very specific clientele for a time, but, ultimately, Alice becomes so squalidly voluminous that her customers dissipate. Out of money and out of food, she finally turns herself into a grand meal for two escaped mental patients. That contemporary young women are unhealthily concerned with their appearance should come as a surprise to no one. This is one of the rare points on which feminist psychologists and “family values” types agree, and Jabès doesn’t offer any new perspective on the issue with her greasy, gruesome little fable. Nor does this novella function as erotica; it’s useful neither as food porn nor as the more traditional type. Alice’s feasts of calamari fritters, spiced olives, gorgonzola and raspberry ice cream are rendered as mere grocery lists, and the sex scenes are equally perfunctory. Indeed, pretty much everything in this story is abbreviated—not in the universal and resonant shorthand of myth or fairy tale, but with a rather presumptuous carelessness. The publisher offers this slender volume as part of a series of “short European fiction,” and they’re not kidding about “short”: Even a slow, attentive reader should be able to get through it in under an hour.

The food here is terrible, and the portions are too small.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-903517-51-2

Page Count: 116

Publisher: Dedalus

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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