Gossamer-thin entertainment.

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SEED

Everything must go in this playful snapshot of an end-of-life giveaway, the sixth novel from an offbeat author (Petroleum Man, 2005, etc.).

Bill Starr  is so old almost all his friends and close relatives are dead. The childless widower lives alone in a renovated 18th-century farmhouse somewhere in the United States. Ramona, his undocumented Hispanic housekeeper, is both compassionate guardian and comic relief. Here’s Crawford’s shaky premise: Bill, less concerned about the past than the future, will bestow his possessions on his dimly remembered extended family, who will collect their booty in person, and place their names on an improvised family tree: “Things are seeds. I wish to plant mine into the future.” Their haphazard survival appeals to his free spirit. The novel alternates between visits from these relatives, who are meeting their benefactor for the first time, and Bill’s random thoughts. The tone is light and breezy. His pride and joy is Desdemona, his 1937 Pierce-Arrow, named by his late wife. (Its hood ornament makes for good cover art.) Bill awards it impulsively to a likable young man with whom, improbably, he shares a grandfather; much better him than Bill's greedy stepson. Though the old guy tells us nothing about his career in marketing or his happy marriage, he allows us a few peeks into his past. He sowed his wild oats in Europe with both genders: “Sex for sex’s sake.” Now he ogles, discreetly, the muscular yard boy. Creaky limbs are a constant reminder of mortality: “In the old days it was…London to Paris....Now just recliner to chaise lounge.” Yet Bill’s worldview is benign. He has no epiphanies to offer, for he ends as befuddled as he began, but he’s willing to embrace failure along with success.

Gossamer-thin entertainment.

Pub Date: April 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-57366-183-6

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Univ. of Alabama

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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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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