McCarthy’s novel is thought-provoking and sometimes frustrating; adjusting to its unexpected rhythms takes time, but the...

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SATIN ISLAND

A dizzying take on possible conspiracies, corporate philosophies and one man’s idle thoughts.

The basic ingredients of McCarthy’s new novel suggest a Don DeLillo–like look at academic theories and the rigors of contemporary life or perhaps a globe-trotting thriller in the vein of William Gibson’s Bridge trilogy. McCarthy, whose earlier novels Remainder and C eluded easy descriptions, certainly seems to be laying the groundwork for this in the novel’s early pages. Its narrator, known only as U., is an anthropologist who made his name a decade ago after writing a highly regarded academic study of dance music. “Once, for a brief time, I was famous,” U. writes, but he then goes on to clarify that it was a very specific, very niche variety of fame. This doubling back happens again and again: At one point, U. gives a short lecture, then dedicates much more time to an imagined version of how the same event could have gone. And while there are events here that could form the core of a more traditional narrative, including the illness of a colleague of U.’s and a series of mysterious deaths that occur while parachuting, U. continues on his way, sometimes oblivious and sometimes obsessed. As the crossed-out subtitles on the cover—including “An Essay” and “A Treatise”—suggest, this is a malleable work, one where dreams of unreal cities carry as much weight as impressions of real ones and where a long discussion of the way Starbucks operates in Seattle may be a key image or a complete digression. There are moments of devastation here, and the way McCarthy reveals them are among the novel’s highlights.

McCarthy’s novel is thought-provoking and sometimes frustrating; adjusting to its unexpected rhythms takes time, but the effort to follow its surprising routes pays off.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-59395-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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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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