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Novelist and storywriter Dixon (Sleep, p. 102, etc.) offers a big, generous, free-form fictional autobiography of his alter ego—husband, father, and writer-teacher Gould Bookbinder (who first appeared in 1997’s Gould). It develops in an unusual way: 30 separate chapters (arranged in apparently random order) detail both real and imaginary experiences, crowned by the book length “Ends” (itself containing 15 substantial sub-chapters) that considers possible ways in which this story itself might have concluded (for example, a moving sequence entitled “The Brother” dreams what if . . . an older brother who died young had instead grown up to become his sibling’s intellectual soulmate and rival). Many chapters explore Gould’s relationships with his wife Sally (a victim of multiple sclerosis) and their two daughters (“Accidents and Mishaps” is an especially acute dramatization of parental fears). Others (such as “Everything Goes” and “The Burial”) examine his feelings about—and attempts to care for—his distant mother and scarcely known father; sexual fact and fantasy (“Popovers” unsparingly describes his foolish infatuation with a young waitress at a Maine resort, and “The Bellydancer” amusingly recounts the young Gould’s victimization by an older woman’s erotic gamesmanship) or discrete accidents (in “The Suicide,” Gould’s reaction when a casual acquaintance violently takes his own life exfoliates into a complex, funny threnody on his own preoccupation with death). Dixon’s sedulously plain style and penchant for stream-of-consciousness monologues and long run-on paragraphs make for a sometimes wearying read, but over the long haul his gamble pays off: we observe his thoughtful, egoistic, sometimes faithless protagonist in so many recognizably human situations that it’s impossible to deny his essential resemblance to all of us. Best read in conjunction with Gould, though also quite accessible on its own—and probably Dixon’s best so far.

Pub Date: May 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8050-5923-7

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1999

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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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