One of Morrison’s finest, and a heartening return to Nobel–worthy form.

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LOVE

A black patriarch’s obsessive domination of the many women in his life is relentlessly scrutinized in the 1993 Nobel winner’s intricately patterned eighth novel.

An opening monologue spoken by an unidentified elderly woman reminisces about the once-vibrant, now-defunct Florida Hotel and Resort (a “playground” for affluent black people) owned by the late Bill Cosey: a rags-to-riches millionaire revered for his benevolence and his ability to attract and possess beautiful women. We’re soon introduced to Junior Viviane, a runaway and reform-school veteran who answers an ad for a “Companion, Secretary” placed by Cosey’s (much younger) widow Heed (born, wretchedly poor, as Heed the Night Johnson). Then, in a gorgeous deployment of enigmatic flashbacks, Morrison focuses in turn on elderly May Cosey, the widow of Cosey’s son Billy Boy; May’s daughter Christine, the old man’s only surviving blood relative, who had fled the Resort and forfeited her birthright; and the silent, judging presence who has observed them all: Cosey’s legendary chef, known only as L. As Junior expertly seduces Romen, the adolescent grandson of Sandler and Vida Gibbons (both of whom had been employed by Cosey), Christine’s rage, May’s paranoid fear of racial unrest as a threat to her security (“for years, she hoarded and buried, and preserved and stole”), and the frail heed’s stranglehold on the Cosey property and history, all meld, as the novel’s climactic events deepen the enigma of Cosey (who’s present only in retrospect): a fructifying paternal figure, and perhaps also an unconscionable predator (or, as L. wryly concludes, “an ordinary man ripped, like the rest of us, by wrath and love”). Incorporating elements from earlier Morrison novels (notably Jazz, Paradise, and Sula), Love is an elegantly shaped epic of infatuation, enslavement, and liberation: a rich symbolic mystery that grows steadily more eloquent and disturbing as its meanings clarify and grip the reader.

One of Morrison’s finest, and a heartening return to Nobel–worthy form.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-40944-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2003

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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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