A densely woven, thought-provoking fantasy, and an impressive step forward for the gifted Tolstaya.

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THE SLYNX

A strikingly imagined first novel (after stories: On the Golden Porch, 1989; Sleepwalker in a Fog, 1992) skillfully creates a frightening and perversely funny postnuclear world.

The setting is what once was Moscow, two hundred years after “the Blast” that leveled the metropolis, leaving a frozen wasteland clogged with trash and populated by a mixture of “normal” human beings and grotesque mutants. Moscow is now called Fyodor-Kuzmichsk, in honor of its seldom-seen dictator Kablukov, a paternalistic egotist who is reputed to have invented every useful object now known to man and to be the author of the classic literary works he blithely plagiarizes. A ravenous mythical beast, the slynx, further impairs the wretched lives of oppressed workers (“Golubchiks”), prowling the ruined city’s dark outskirts. And Benedikt, a Golubchik employed as one of the numerous scribes recording the dictator’s ostensible works, naively incarnates both his people’s passive servitude, and—once he’s introduced to forbidden books by “Oldeners” who deny Fyodor Kuzmich’s virtual divinity—their urge toward enlightenment and freedom. Sustained by his love for his fiancée Olenka, and encouraged by his putative father-in-law Kudeyar Kudeyarich, Benedikt aspires to further knowledge (“He dreamt he knew how to fly”), loses his own mutant status (surrendering his vestigial tail), and finds himself crucially involved in a “revolution” that ends Fyodor Kuzmich’s abuses of power even as it recycles them in different forms. The slynx is thus less mythic than symbolic: it’s the beast in man. Tolstaya enriches this mordant farce with a wealth of weird supporting detail reminiscent of Anthony Burgess’s futuristic classic A Clockwork Orange. An ending note informs us that The Slynx was written between 1986 and 2000, and it’s easy to see why.

A densely woven, thought-provoking fantasy, and an impressive step forward for the gifted Tolstaya.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2003

ISBN: 0-618-12497-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2002

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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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