Straight (who is white but eschews the self-congratulating, cliché-laden condescension of books like The Help) employs...

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BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HERE

Set several years before the events of Straight’s Take One Candle Light a Room (2010), the third installment of her trilogy concerns the reactions and memories that a prostitute’s death stirs up in the tightknit black community in Rio Seco, Calif.

Video store employee Sidney Chabert notices Glorette Picard’s body in a shopping cart in the alley behind the Mexican restaurant where he’s just eaten. Glorette has become a streetwalker and a drug addict who has dangerously neglected her brilliant son, Victor. But like every guy who knew her in high school, Sidney has remained in love with Glorette, although it has been 20 years since she was an innocent, preternaturally beautiful girl growing up in orange groves that belonged to her “uncle,” Enrique Antoine, and her father, Gustave—the men’s binding relationship, their establishment of Rio Seco as a refuge for young women escaping a brutal white rapist in Louisiana, and the method by which Enrique gained ownership of the land are haunting subplots reaching back for generations. Once Sidney alerts Antoine’s sons, they bring Glorette’s body back to her family to be buried without police involvement. But her death roils the souls of all those whose lives she’s touched, however tangentially. In less than 250 pages, Straight develops a lot of characters in surprising depth: Enrique is bound for vengeance, while Gustave is overwhelmed with silent grief. Glorette’s former boyfriend Chess has remained devoted to her even after fathering a child with someone else. Enrique’s sons can’t quite leave their father’s home despite wives who strive, with mixed success, to assimilate their children into middle-class America. There are Glorette’s frankly skanky prostitute competitors and the men they service, or don’t service. And there is Glorette’s son, Victor, desperate to make it to college though thwarted at every turn.

Straight (who is white but eschews the self-congratulating, cliché-laden condescension of books like The Help) employs glorious language and a riveting eye for detail to create a fully realized, totally believable world.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-936365-75-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: McSweeney’s

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

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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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