Transcendent contemporary American literary fiction, a rich and passionate story rewarding enough to be read again.



Afghanistan's brutal war and Hurricane Katrina's ominous shadow haunt Johnson’s powerful literary debut.

It is 2004, and Achilles and Troy Conroy return home to once-rural, now McMansion-ed, Maryland after tours in the same airborne infantry squad in “Goddamnistan.” The brothers expect a surprise party, but the surprise is that their father had been killed in an auto accident just as they began transit home. That shock is compounded by news that their parents had been living apart. The brothers are African-American, and their parents white. Their mother gives them each an envelope that contains information about their biological parents. Achilles refuses to open his envelope, while Troy, the younger, sets off in pursuit of his history without telling either his mother or brother. Johnson's descriptions of the very different brothers, of anecdotes from Afghanistan and of New Orleans are brilliant. Wages, Achilles' squad leader in "Goddamnistan," calls and reports that he has seen Troy in New Orleans. Achilles pursues Troy there, ostensibly for his mother, for family, but truly because he has been his brother’s keeper since youth. Troy searches drug dens, morgues and shelters for Troy without success, but over the months there, he meets and becomes lovers with Ines Delesseppes, a shelter coordinator he first believes to be white. But the Delesseppes family, ensconced in the Garden District since 1806, is thoroughly New Orleans, “we’re Creole, not mulatto, or octoroon or quadroon,” a mixture Ines celebrates in spite of her white appearance. Achilles, Troy, Ines and the men of the infantry squad are archetypical yet singularly distinctive, thoroughly and believably human. The depth, complexity and empathy within Johnson’s narrative explores issues great and small—race, color and class, the wounds of war suffered by individuals and nations, the complications and obligations of brotherhood and familial love. 

Transcendent contemporary American literary fiction, a rich and passionate story rewarding enough to be read again.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-56689-309-1

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 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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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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