Conflict without confrontation makes for a very unexciting read.

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THE GRACE THAT KEEPS THIS WORLD

Tensions simmer in a family right before deer season in the Adirondacks; an awkward first novel following a story collection (Crow Man, not reviewed).

Gary Hazen is a forester in the North Country, in upstate New York, managing 40,000 acres for absentee owners. It’s not an easy life, and money is always tight for Gary, wife Susan and his sons, 24-year-old Gary David and 19-year-old Kevin. Yet Gary loves the woodsman’s life, and has conditioned his sons to love it too. Or has he? Gary David is obedience itself, but Kevin shows signs of straying from the reservation: He’s attending college and considering teaching, and his vegetarian girlfriend has persuaded him not to hunt this season. Gary has another problem: There’s a new environmental conservation officer, Josephine Roy, and the young woman will enforce all the hunting rules (Gary has been cutting corners to ensure enough venison for his family). Josephine is also having nocturnal trysts with Gary David, who’s too scared to tell his dad. Bailey’s principal theme is the nature of parental love, the importance of letting go. What he doesn’t have is a plot. We know early on the Hazens will encounter tragedy on the first day of hunting, but Bailey fails to develop a storyline that will lead us to it. Instead, we get diversions: The longest one involves a documentary film crew and some dead geese in need of painting (don’t ask). He does himself another disservice by using 13 narrators to tell his story, to pull the community into an essentially domestic tale, to involve the church, the diner and the saloon. This is Richard Russo territory, but Bailey lacks Russo’s steady hand. Narrative momentum goes out the window. When the tragedy finally occurs, without witnesses, it’s not the outcome of the father-son conflict, and that’s the biggest failing of all.

Conflict without confrontation makes for a very unexciting read.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2005

ISBN: 0-307-23801-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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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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