A humorous novel about very unfunny things.

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GENIUS

This genius has as many insecurities as the rest of us—and a quirky family that helps her address mortality.

Rayfiel is a shape-shifting writer. After the beautiful and mysterious monologue of In Pinelight (2013), his last novel, this new work presents what amounts to a morbidly funny conversation. There is little narration, with the book taking place almost entirely in dialogue, and Rayfiel creates clear and memorable characters through their banter. Kara Bell is a 23-year-old small-town girl who's pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy in New York City. Diagnosed with cancer, she returns to Witch’s Falls, Arkansas, in search of a bone-marrow match within her family. She's a fish out of water in this town of no secrets, at odds with her mother, cynical about her brother's vacuous girlfriend and tattoo business, lustfully infatuated with her old friend Christy, and literally dying to get out of town. Neither her brother, Gerald, nor her mother, Jean, is a match for her, and they're reluctant to give her any information about her late father’s family as another potential source for the transplant. Kara is thoroughly grounded in epistemology but can't find the answers she needs for her cure. When her mother insists she see the local doctor for a second opinion, she finds out she's pregnant with the child of her 75-year-old doctoral adviser, a genius himself. At physical risk because of her illness and indifferent to motherhood given her strange relationship with her own mother, she has Christy take her to an abortion clinic in Little Rock. She may hold the answers to the universe in her brilliant head, but secrets begin to emerge about her life and her family that she could never have guessed, and life becomes something she has to figure out without the guiding voice of Kant in her ear. “The thing-in-itself. Not what we perceive through our senses but what is. What we can never know.”

A humorous novel about very unfunny things.

Pub Date: March 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8101-3246-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: TriQuarterly/Northwestern Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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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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