Slight and forgettable

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MOON OVER LAKE ELMO

A portentous epistolary exercise in which a Minnesotan father explains himself to, and ultimately reunites with, his ten-year-old daughter in Los Angeles.

The story opens as little Angela watches the fires from the 1992 riots flicker from her bedroom window. She’s frightened and wants to die, now that her summer visit to Minnesota has been called off by her mean old grandmother. A girl of assiduous literary habits, Angela notes all these things in her journal, whose entries are interspersed with the meditative letters she receives from her father. Steve not only speaks excitedly about their forthcoming meeting, he also recalls both his marriage to Angela’s mother, Penny, and his own father’s life and struggles. Anglo Steve from the Midwest made a splash when he married beautiful, African-American Penny and fathered Angela. (Cue Angela’s diary entry about being taunted as an “oreo.”) But Penny died tragically from sickle-cell anemia shortly after the baby’s birth, and Steve lit out for home, leaving Angela with Penny’s folks—most prominently, Penny’s bitter mother, Nana, who has many extramarital affairs and beats her granddaughter for no reason. Meanwhile, Steve relates the story of his father, “Zeke,” WWII veteran and all-around good guy who was forced to abandon Steve when his mother took him away to her second, disastrous marriage. (Cue more diary entries: Zeke’s this time, illustrating his goodness, his perseverance, and his neglected virtues.) Finally, back to the main plot: one of Angela’s concerned neighbors writes Steve about a beating she saw the girl receive; he decides the vacation can’t wait and plucks Angela from her dismal situation. It helps not at all that Thayer (Silent Snow, 1999, etc.) includes a confusing letter to his own real father, confessing that when he was being treated for depression he was supposed to write to Dad, but wrote this novel instead.

Slight and forgettable

Pub Date: July 10, 2001

ISBN: 0-451-20373-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: NAL/Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2001

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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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