Not her best novel—that remains the towering Coal Run (2004), for now—but her most mature, opening new paths for this...

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FRAGILE BEASTS

Eschewing the melodramatic excesses of Sister Mine (2007), O’Dell crafts a strong, moving story about a rich old lady and two poor boys who help each other overcome shattering losses.

As the novel opens, Kyle and Klint Hayes’ father has just been killed while driving drunk; Candace Jack’s matador lover was gored to death by a bull in 1959. The 76-year-old Candace has never really recovered from the loss of Manuel Obrador. She returned to America with both the bull that killed Manuel and his teenaged sword page; now Luis serves as Candace’s cook and cranky voice of reason while a descendant of Calladito roams the grounds surrounding her mansion in Centresburg, the desolate western Pennsylvania town that serves as O’Dell’s Yoknapatawpha County. Readers of the author’s earlier books already know that J&P Coal made the Jack family rich while it sucked the life from men like Kyle and Klint’s father, poisoned the land, then shut down the mines and left the area’s residents to scrabble for a living. Klint, a high-school baseball star, might escape via an athletic scholarship; Kyle doesn’t know what he can do with the artistic ability that makes him a misfit in his blue-collar community. The boys’ mother Rhonda split years ago, and she’s happy to relinquish her sons for $15,000 from Candace, who’s been persuaded by her great-niece—as well as by ornery delight in infuriating her über-capitalist nephew—to take them in. Sensitive, observant Kyle, sophisticated, salt-of-the-earth Luis and cantankerous Candace rotate as narrators, showing the grief-stricken boys and the walled-off woman tentatively forging a healing connection until the return of monstrous Rhonda provokes a crisis. O’Dell’s eye for class conflict remains as sharp as ever, but she’s broadened the reach of her sympathies, tamed her taste for lurid plotting and found new depths in her subject matter and her human understanding.

Not her best novel—that remains the towering Coal Run (2004), for now—but her most mature, opening new paths for this talented writer.

Pub Date: March 23, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-35168-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Shaye Areheart/Harmony

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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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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