From the first page, this novel grips us with an acutely sensitive rendition of a mentally handicapped man's inner world.

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THE BIRDS

The point of view of a mentally simple man provides a poignant perspective on day-to-day events in this novel from Norway.

Vesaas (1897-1970; The Ice Palace, 1963) originally published this novel in 1957, but it has a freshness that can only be due to its timeless subject matter. Mattis, 37, lives with his sister Hege, 40, in a cottage in the woods. Gently mocked by villagers (who call him Simple Simon), Mattis clings to what sense he can make of things, often attributing miraculous significance to small events such as the flight of a woodcock over his house. He eagerly tells anyone who will listen, most often Hege, about the small moments that have filled him with overwhelming feeling. Life is full of drama for him, but we see through his eyes (and clever, subtle narration) that his sister is miserable, feeling trapped in drudgery. She knits sweaters for a living and soon asks Mattis to go look for some work. Thus begin several adventures for Mattis, which include becoming an impromptu ferryman for two attractive girls who are unexpectedly gentle with him, allowing him to carry them to shore in town so he can impress the villagers. Each turn of events prompts an elaborate sense of wonder and optimism in Mattis. The tension between him and the unhappy Hege works well as a form of suspense, as Mattis fears she will get fed up and leave him, and the reader wonders the same thing. But just as their duo seems stalled in unhappy stasis, Mattis happens to ferry home a lumberjack, Jørgen, who becomes Hege's love interest. Some of the novel's exquisite control slackens in the last section, as Jørgen's actions are surprisingly predictable (however contradictory that seems), and Hege's rescue from loneliness has a “too good to be true” feeling. Nothing is truly smooth, however, which is a sadness built into every page of a story about a character like Mattis. And despite lulls, the novel is compelling enough to pull you along to the very end.

From the first page, this novel grips us with an acutely sensitive rendition of a mentally handicapped man's inner world.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-914-67120-6

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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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