It’s being touted as the story of a contemporary Messiah, and that may have been the author’s original intention. The...

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NAZARETH, NORTH DAKOTA

Zurhellen’s debut is a collection of loosely linked monologues and stories (two of them previously published) in search of a story line.

It’s being touted as the story of a contemporary Messiah, and that may have been the author’s original intention. The chapters (or stories) have biblical titles; a possible Son of God is glimpsed at the end; Satan makes brief opening and closing statements. But these are fragments embedded in a hodgepodge of stories spanning close to 30 years (1983-2010). The first introduces Roxy, an alcoholic waitress, and her husband Dill, staying at a motel outside Bismarck, N.D. Dill, an ex-con, reveals he’s on the lam. Roxy finds a baby outside their door. Unable to conceive, she appropriates it, naming it Sam. After Dill shoots the alleged father dead, Roxy takes off with Sam in their stolen van. That’s too much action jammed into too small a space. Zurhellen next brings on a new set of characters in the small town of Nazareth, N.D., dominated by the veteran sheriff, Severo Rodriguez, a brutal and corrupt official and Zurhellen’s most successful characterization; but even this episode is marred by abrupt viewpoint switches (a recurrent problem) and a botched climax. Severo is set to burn down an illegal roadhouse, apparently with his older son inside, but we only learn the outcome much later. And so it goes: with each time shift, a mess of new characters, none of them developed. Roxy’s cousin Betsy has a miracle baby, Jan, who cures his father’s stroke. Sam is a miracle baby too, for Roxy stops drinking after “adopting” him. Yet mother and son never have a heart-to-heart, and it is the preacher Jan who dominates the final section, conducting river baptisms and dunking cousin Sam. Might one be the Messiah and the other his messenger? Don’t expect pat answers.

Pub Date: April 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-9845105-6-6

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Atticus Books

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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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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