Burns is an unmissable heir to writers of the peculiar, from Shirley Jackson to Roald Dahl.

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THE VENERATION OF MONSTERS

A parade of eccentric women retreat into fantasy as they attempt to cure their loneliness.

There's a moment in this collection’s second story, “Selfie,” that tells readers much of what they need to know about the book. Violet is in her early 30s and runs a blog for goths. She decides, in an effort to up her readership, to live blog her attempts to summon a vampire lover from the local graveyard. And it works: while she's doing gravestone rubbings in the middle of the night, her undead boyfriend-to-be flits over and compliments her technique. Violet replies, “Thank you…I played with Fashion Plates as a child.” Like so many of the antiheroines Burns (Love Songs for Las Vegas, 2014, etc.) has created, Violet is an oddball, living largely inside her own imagination but desperate for approval, attention, and love. Violet's efforts to gain this love—like those of the other protagonists here—make for writing that is at once darkly funny and tenderly empathetic. In “Unwound,” Lara is inspired by a horror story about a woman whose head will fall off if her neck ribbon is removed, until she carries her playacting too far. In “Best of Show,” the wife of the world’s smallest man contemplates an affair. And in the book’s longest story, “The Unfortunate Act of Falling,” Joan, an upper-middle-class housewife, has a surprising reaction to the death of a local boy and becomes obsessed with its effect on her suburban town. Although many of Burns’ stories have similar arcs, there is such delight in the oddity of the details and the wit and precision of the writing that they each retain their sharpness.

Burns is an unmissable heir to writers of the peculiar, from Shirley Jackson to Roald Dahl.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-941088-76-0

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Dzanc

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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