WELDING WITH CHILDREN

STORIES

Eleven richly varied stories from the Louisiana author (Same Place, Same Things, 1996; The Next Step in the Dance, 1998), who is rapidly becoming a major American writer. Gautreaux’s offbeat characters and infectious storyteller’s tone put you in mind of Eudora Welty in a John Deere cap, or maybe Flannery O—Connor before she got religion. Many of his people seem too tenderhearted for their own good, such as “The Piano Tuner” whose unconventional friendship with a traumatized reclusive woman can—t save her, but ironically confirms his own hopefulness; or the camera-shop employee (in “Misuse of Light—) whose recovery of old photographs threatens to destroy a young woman’s life . . . until he hits on just the right lie to tell her. With few exceptions (the allegorical “Rodeo Parole,” a laconic Louisiana-gothic counterpart to Shirley Jackson’s classic “The Lottery” is a stunning one), these stories feature people who persevere and get by—in muted fashion, like the hapless grandfather (of “Welding with Children—) who combats his grandkids” casual vulgarity with Bible stories; or the elderly stroke victim (in “Sorry Blood—) who’s exploited by a worthless loafer but endures through sheer will to live and an ingrained resiliency—or even more definitively, like the feisty Mrs. Landreneaux (in the droll “Easy Pickings—), who outwits a peabrained burglar with the help of her matter-of-factly courageous neighbors; or likable Iry Bordeaux (in “Dancing with the One-Armed Gal—), fired from his job at the icehouse and on the road westward, where he picks up a disabled lesbian academic hitchhiker, whose dismissal from her job occasions several delicious conversational exchanges (—That’s a bitch.—/ . . . “Yes, well, I wouldn—t put it in exactly those words—). You find yourself hoping Gautreaux will put Iry into a novel sometime, and just let him rip. But whatever direction this greatly talented writer turns to next, you—ll want to follow him every step of the way.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-312-20308-X

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1999

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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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