THE PRESIDENT'S ANGEL

The third and final entry in Burnham's self-proclaimed ``angel cycle'' (A Book of Angels; Angel Letters—not reviewed). More narrative sermon than fully developed novel, it's the story of the spiritual transformation of a President. ``It was on the 695th night of his reign that the President saw the angel. He awoke from a light and fitful sleep to see the form balancing on the end of his bed.'' That rhapsodic opening gives way to a description of an apocalyptic near-future in which the Free World's leader lives in a ``Presidential Palace,'' cynical and burdened by a war that rages ever closer to a Star Wars-like conclusion. At first, the angel terrifies—a flaring column of light, it takes human form and stares at the President with such love and compassion that he feels his whole life thrown into question. He tries to forget the apparition, busying himself with his advisors, particularly bitter workaholic Jim. But the angel reappears and leads the President's gaze out his bedroom window. It then flies out the window and into a park filled with ragged war protestors; there, the angel stops and bows to an especially abject-looking beggar. Haunted by the beggar, the President ponders the meaning of it all. Meanwhile, his advisers—convinced that their leader is losing his grip—plot to depose him. In the course of all this, moreover, a reporter's young daughter also happens to see an angel in the Presidential Palace. In the end, the President makes his peace with the beggar, who, it seems, is another angel. Reconciling with all these celestial beings, he also gains the confidence to make peace with the Russian premier—who has an angel of his own. Burnham says she wrote this in a ``transport of joy.'' Her inspiration is palpable—but her story and characters remain pale images, never taking on real life or force.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-345-38510-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1993

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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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