No other contemporary novelist offers such a beguiling take on the evasive-action tactics of horny, good-natured, small-town...

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JOE COLLEGE

Another perfectly pitched, subversively hilarious chronicle of prolonged adolescence from the author of, most recently, Election (1998).

If Salinger’s Holden Caulfield had hit the books a bit more assiduously, and gotten out more, he might have turned into this story’s engaging (if not fully engaged) narrator and protagonist Danny: an overachieving Italian-American kid from (Perrotta’s chosen fictional turf) suburban New Jersey who finds himself at Yale as a junior English major, mired in the tricky coils of encroaching adulthood, five-alarm sexual confusion, and George Eliot’s demandingly mandarin Middlemarch. Danny’s blithe, slightly aslant wisecracking sensibility is evoked in dozens of subtly rib-tickling one-liners (he recalls an anticipated sexual conquest thusly: “I remember feeling like Wordsworth on the verge of a sublime experience”). Perrotta’s episodic plot veers amiably among Danny’s politely wary relationships with his several dorm-mates (the most memorable of whom, the unfocussed Max, is “studying” the lives of presidential assassins); the girl he left back home, who shows up with a surprise announcement (the expected one, and no surprise to the reader); and the goonlike “Lunch Monsters,” who not-so-subtly suggest that his father’s lunch-truck (the “Roach Coach,” which Danny mans during vacation breaks and summers) pull out of “their” territory. It all zips along in ineffably reader-friendly fashion, rising to splendid comic heights in such neat sequences as a wild campus party (where revelers are “getting down with the grim determination of pioneers”), a remembered high-school encounter with the dreaded bully known as “Psycho Midget,” and the marvelous finale, in which varied promising and doom-laden intimations of Danny’s uncertain future are deftly incarnated.

No other contemporary novelist offers such a beguiling take on the evasive-action tactics of horny, good-natured, small-town Peter Pans who, whether they realize it or not, really don’t want to ever grow up. Joe College almost makes you wish you could relive the whole godawful mess all over again.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-312-26184-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2000

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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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