Probably the fullest picture of the hippie culture of the late ’60s since Marge Piercy’s early fiction, and one of Boyle’s...

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DROP CITY

Boyle’s protean imagination works overtime in his thickly plotted ninth novel, a big, racy tale of the conflict between a radical utopian commune’s idealistic visions and the simpler imperatives of survival in the Alaskan wilderness.

In Drop City, a California hippie enclave in 1970, we observe through the eyes of its newest members: “Star,” a restless dropout from her parents’ straight life, and Mario, a hardier type who drifts into the City because he knows he wants to build things. Boyle then shifts to Boynton, Alaska (near Fairbanks), where homesteader Cecil (“Sess”) Harder and his new wife Pamela begin their life together in Sess’s well-stocked cabin in the deep woods. As parallel chunks of narrative further introduce us to both sets of characters, a ludicrous auto accident brings the heat down on Drop City, and its putative guru Norm (whose inherited wealth pays the bills) leads the group’s relocation to Alaska, where the peace-and-love people collide with the Harders. A cruel winter, sexual and racial disharmony, and Norm’s decision to pull up his personal stakes exact their toll, and the story churns fatalistically toward its violent climax, on Halloween, in sub-zero cold. Boyle has worked this territory before in several sensationally effective stories, but never with such telling detail and devastating characterizations. The best of the latter include the stoical Sess and warmhearted Pamela, murderous trapper (and Sess’s mortal enemy) Joe Bosky, and weak-willed Ronnie Sommers (a.k.a. Pan), a lethal combination of ingenuous flower-power and uncontrollable appetites. Boyle (After the Plague, 2001, etc.) never fails to enthrall and entertain, but the mordant tragicomic momentum is perhaps too explicitly subordinated to his agenda—revealed in such sequences as the aftermath of a scary episode that endangered Drop City’s toddlers (“They [i.e., the adults] didn’t want to save children, they wanted to be children”).

Probably the fullest picture of the hippie culture of the late ’60s since Marge Piercy’s early fiction, and one of Boyle’s best.

Pub Date: March 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-670-03172-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Viking

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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