Episodic, instructive, occasionally resonant, this is slow, lambent fiction that pays unsentimental tribute to ways of being...

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THE WANDERERS

A teenage boy scrapes a living roaming the southern counties of pre–World War I England as a girl he loves drifts toward maturity in surroundings of insulated privilege.

Time passes with slow deliberation in this restless second volume of the West Country trilogy as Pears (The Horseman, 2017, etc.) maintains his commitment to the seasonal and laboring round of a bygone era. The novel picks up where Volume 1 closed, with Leo Sercombe cast out from his childhood home, beaten and bereft. Near starvation, he's rescued by a gypsy family whose adoption develops into a kind of enslavement as Leo works off his debt, initially with chores, later—when reunited with a stunning white colt and using his remarkable equestrian skills—by enhancing the betting in an important race. Meanwhile, Lottie, the 14-year-old daughter of Lord Prideaux, progresses toward adulthood, attending the Derby (an annual British horse race) and developing a passion for biology. Leo’s peregrinations serve as a lens through which Pears presents a succession of impoverished vistas—ruined mines, mean farms—and a minutely observed landscape in which the boy scrounges work, learns some skills, makes a few friends, and is robbed of his magical horse. Weather, wildlife, and rural practices are delivered in detail, from how to butcher a deer to the best response when an owl lands on your wrist, talons first. Avoiding conventional plot developments, pulled along instead by the gravity of survival and impending history, the novel closes with a glimpse of 1915, of war and the irreversible social disruption seeping into this panorama split between Leo’s poverty and Lottie’s luxury.

Episodic, instructive, occasionally resonant, this is slow, lambent fiction that pays unsentimental tribute to ways of being now disappeared from the land.

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63557-202-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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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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