Quite a narrative feat of hallucinatory imagination, though occasionally only borderline coherent.



If Paul Auster and Haruki Murakami collaborated on Moby-Dick crossed with The Wizard of Oz, they might produce something like Hall’s deliriously ambitious debut, which mixes profound themes with playful plot twists.

Narrator Eric Sanderson suffers from what his psychiatrist, Dr. Randle, calls “psychotropic fugue,” a recurring amnesia. The only clues he has to the catastrophe that triggered his psychosis are those provided by Dr. Randle and through letters and packages sent to him by “the First Eric Sanderson.” According to the psychiatrist, Eric has tried to come to terms with his past and his identity on previous occasions, only to revert to the state that he’s in when the novel begins, reborn from unconsciousness. She warns him not to pay any heed to the First Eric Sanderson: This is where madness lies. Yet the First Eric Sanderson warns him not to trust Dr. Randle, who may be putting her professional interests in his unusual case ahead of his best interests. At the crux of Eric’s crisis is a trip he took with his girlfriend Clio to the Greek islands, where she seems to have suffered a fatal scuba-diving accident. As long as the narrative remains primarily inside Eric’s head, it’s riveting, but it turns increasingly wacky as he abandons therapy and embarks on a pilgrimage to confront the great “conceptual fish” that apparently can attack his memory like a computer virus. In the process, he acquires a female accomplice named Scout, who might be Clio and may be using Eric for her own purposes. She says she can lead him to Dr. Trey Fidorous, archetypal mad scientist and world authority on conceptual fish. So they’re off to see the wizard, then off to spear the fish (conceptually, of course) as the typography turns from prose paragraphs into codes and word illustrations.

Quite a narrative feat of hallucinatory imagination, though occasionally only borderline coherent.

Pub Date: April 2, 2007

ISBN: 1-84195-911-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Canongate

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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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 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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