Dedicated readers might excavate nuggets of wisdom, but most will wonder if the expedition was worth it.

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THE BOOK OF SCIENCE AND ANTIQUITIES

A filmmaker and a prehistoric predecessor muse on humanity and mortality.

Booker Prize–winning novelist Keneally (Crimes of the Father, 2017, etc.) tells the parallel tales of aging filmmaker Shelby Apple and Learned Man, an Australian mystic of 42,000 years ago. Both men confront serious problems. Apple has cancer, and Learned Man must interpret and enforce the sometimes-deadly justice of the gods. Keneally offers a few vivid scenes, such as the Vietnam battle that catapulted Apple to cinematic fame. Such moments are outweighed by the sometimes head-scratching interludes in which Learned Man describes his people’s ways: “My first boy, not my Son Unnameable, was killed by a curse that overtook his mouth when he was still young and swelled his head to a dreadful size. Afterwards, our clan marched forth with spears to face the Parrot clan, and we contested them on the ground of war until a necessary measure of blood had been shed.” Big topics are addressed: manhood, love, war, humanity’s past and future, the meaning of life, the nature of death. (The book was released in Australia as Two Old Men Dying.) But Apple isn’t engaging in his ponderings, and Learned Man’s world befuddles as often as it intrigues. The women in both eras are strong but mostly serve as objects of men’s affection or lust—and those prehistoric sex scenes should maybe have been taken out back and buried. ("After she had healed my plant, demanding now and then that I not succumb yet and give her my sap too early, she eased herself backwards onto the fur and that great passage of hers was mine to go into. How we toiled.”)

Dedicated readers might excavate nuggets of wisdom, but most will wonder if the expedition was worth it.

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-2103-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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