Strong physical detail and a carefully rendered cast mostly overcome long stretches of talky description and occasional...

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HIGHWIRE MOON

Straight (I Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots, 1992, etc.) paints a bleak yet not hopeless landscape as a young girl and her mother, separated by happenstance 12 years earlier, search for each other among the down-and-out of southern California.

When immigration authorities pick up Mexican-Indian Serafina, the 18-year-old lacks enough English to explain that her 3-year-old daughter, Elvia, is asleep in a car parked nearby. Elvia, the child of Serafina and an itinerant Anglo worker, passes through a series of foster homes before her long-term placement with a nurturing surrogate mother. She’s happily ensconced there when her father Larry, himself the product of foster homes, shows up and reclaims her. Larry’s undeniably redeeming characteristic is his sense of parental responsibility; he spent years tracking Elvia down. But he is also a loser and speed-freak. Elvia becomes involved with Michael, an orphaned Native American whose sweet dreaminess masks his dangerous attraction to speed and hallucinogens. Pregnant at 15 and afraid to tell her father, Elvia’s longing for her birth mother, always simmering, boils over. She steals Larry’s truck to look for Serafina, or at least for clues to why Serafina abandoned her. Meanwhile, Serafina has never lost hope of reuniting with her daughter. When first deported, she immediately tries to sneak back across the border but is badly beaten and returns to her hometown in southern Mexico, where filial obligation demands she remain to care for her sick mother. Once her mother dies and Serafina’s brother sends money from California, she endures extreme hardship to cross back into the States. In the town where they had lived as a family years before, Elvia and Serafina conduct separate searches for each other. Almost crossing paths, each finds familial love in unexpected places.

Strong physical detail and a carefully rendered cast mostly overcome long stretches of talky description and occasional slips into sentimentality.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2001

ISBN: 0-618-05614-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

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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