“The mind grinds,” says writer earlier. So do reader’s teeth.

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THE BEHOLDER

From storywriter and non-fictionist Farber, an inert and self-involved second novel (after Curves of Pursuit, 1984) about an affair between an older man and a young woman.

All starts when an aunt asks “the writer” if he’d be so good as to meet a niece who’s finishing a Ph.D., is interested in literature, etc. Sure. Even though the niece is newly married (her aunt doesn’t know it), the meeting goes—very well indeed. The girl’s interest is piqued rather than dampened when, seeing him again, she learns that “writer” is in the habit of hiring models to sit nude while he looks at them, or doesn’t, or makes notes, or does whatever it is genus “writer” does. Models soon become unnecessary as girl and writer embark on an affair of their own—one that before long includes many, many Polaroids that become increasingly up close and personal. But the overt sex (there’s plenty) is as nothing to the groans and somnolence induced by Farber’s missteps and affectations in the delivery of it. In deference to their age difference, the two take to calling each other father” and “my daughter” (father will later become “Zeus”), leading, among other things, to father’s saccharine habit of adjectivizing daughter (“Poor baby . . . cry-baby baby,” even “Good baby” and “Flexible baby”). Writer exults in “how she’s reawakened his love of story!” Yet he gets angry at his daughter for “reading his fiction as autobiography,” says that she “has no right to these stories,” goes even so far as to “retort” that “‘My thoughts are my own.’” A curious notion for a writer. This ghastly stuff continues without any quickening of either into a realized character anyone could care about. Writer, it seems, has had heart trouble, but now he’s better. “His heart. Amazing, that it keeps beating,” he comments. “Steady, undramatic. Over and over again.”

“The mind grinds,” says writer earlier. So do reader’s teeth.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2002

ISBN: 0-8050-6972-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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