Major author, minor work.

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DRIVING ON THE RIM

In the latest from McGuane (Gallatin Canyon, 2007, etc.), the narrative voice is often very funny, but its skewed perspective comes at the expense of plot momentum and character development.

In the first sentence, the protagonist introduces himself as “Berl Pickett, Dr. Berl Pickett,” before proceeding to explain that his full name is “Irving Berlin Pickett,” his mother’s choice, where his father had wanted “Lefty Frizzell Pickett,” which, the narrator says, “would have been worse.” Though perhaps more appropriate, for the novel is like one long string of honky-tonk jukebox selections, offering various themes on love gone wrong or awry, sex as a substitute for love, love as a substitute for sex, and the ultimate question of whether friendship is a necessary component for love or the antithesis of romance. The narrator defines love as “that moronic oblivion that makes the world go round,” and explains that “the essence of romance (is an) indifference to truth.” Yet the small-town Montana doctor is less a cynic than a hopeless romantic, his life complicated by not only a series of inappropriate or misguided sexual liaisons but a couple of deaths that occur on his watch. He faces manslaughter charges in the one for which he insists he is innocent, an innocence tarnished by the guilt he feels in the other death, a complicity that no one suspects. There is also an airplane crash, which both results in another ill-fated romantic quest and provides thematic resonance with the references to 9/11 scattered here and there. If such summary sounds like a jumble, the narrator himself suggests that his account may be suspect, that “We had, between how I was perceived by my colleagues and the ways in which I saw myself, true cognitive dissonance,” and that “I started to look for signs of craziness in myself, and I found plenty.” Though the novelist has often balanced metaphysical depth with dark humor, here the balance seems off.

Major author, minor work.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4155-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 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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