A promising debut that studies hard-luck types from new and provocative perspectives.

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HALL OF SMALL MAMMALS

STORIES

People get uncomfortably close to their primal tendencies in this debut story collection that highlights the quirky and uncanny.

Pierce’s stories feel like they’re set within spitting distance of George Saundersville and occupied by residents whose need for normalcy is complicated by the inescapable strangeness of our natures. In “Shirley Temple Three,” the host of a TV show dedicated to reviving extinct animals deposits a surreptitiously freed “dwarf mammoth” with his mother. When the host goes AWOL, his mother is forced to see how well her maternal instincts will work with the creature, and the story becomes funny but surprisingly touching as well. Pierce persistently tests the ways that creatures shed light on our own inscrutability: In “Saint Possy,” an animal skull of unknown provenance unsettles a relationship; in the title story, a zoo exhibit is supposed to help the narrator connect with his girlfriend’s son but does the opposite; and “We of the Present Age” is a historical tale about a naturalist who’s propositioned to present his discovery of dinosaur bones as a lurid and highly unscientific circus attraction. But Pierce can stick with Homo sapiens to convey his perspective on humanity. In “More Soon,” the collection’s strongest story, a man awaits the delivery of his dead brother’s body, which has become entangled in the bureaucracy of an international crisis; Pierce finds the dark humor in officialese (“R has been declared a biological weapon. Will call with more after Thanksgiving”) while exploring the more sober tension of seeking closure after loss. Not every story is successfully provocative—“Felix Not Arriving” is a relatively conventional squabble-during-a–family-visit tale, while “Videos of People Falling Down” is an overly loose set of sketches questioning our urge to mock others’ online foibles. But Pierce clearly has talent to burn.

A promising debut that studies hard-luck types from new and provocative perspectives.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59463-252-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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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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