Sappy, sentimental, and painfully earnest: the sort of silliness that will appeal to anyone who has ever wept over Joseph...

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THE MONK DOWNSTAIRS

The latest New Age soap opera from Farrington (Blues for Hannah, 1998, etc.) follows the perils and joys of a cloistered monk who moves to San Francisco.

Michael Christopher, the erstwhile Brother Jerome, has a lot of adjusting to do. For more than 20 years he was a monk of Our Lady of Bethany monastery in Mendocino County, California, working in the abbey’s vineyards and participating in the daily round of prayer, meditation, and silence. He had no trouble with the solitary life—in fact, he wanted more of it, feeling himself increasingly drawn to contemplation. Unfortunately his abbot disagreed, maintaining that he needed to undertake more active work in the vineyard and the abbey parish. So Mike finally washed his hands of the place and left, without any clear idea of what he was leaving for. He moved to San Francisco and rented a small apartment from Rebecca Martin, divorced mother of a six-year-old girl. Rebecca has her hands plenty full: She has a rambunctious daughter to look after, a genial but feckless ex-husband now facing jail time for his third drug bust, a geeky boyfriend who wants to marry her, an aggravating career as a graphic designer that allows her no time to paint, and a busybody mother who’s just had a stroke. She could, in other words, use some simplicity in her life. Mike, who has never had a bank account before and happily takes a job at McDonald’s, appeals to her in a strange way. He’s good with her kid, gets along with everybody, actually listens to what she says, and is pretty damned cute in his severe-haircut way. Mike feels the attraction as well. Can two middle-aged losers take on the world together? With faith, of course, you can move mountains.

Sappy, sentimental, and painfully earnest: the sort of silliness that will appeal to anyone who has ever wept over Joseph Campbell or Enya.

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-251785-6

Page Count: 280

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 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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