A compelling portrait of women not lost but thriving against the odds.

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A SINGLE THREAD

It's been 14 years since the Great War ended, and Violet Speedwell is still grieving the loss of her brother and her fiance. A daring move—living on her own—will bring her a chance to breathe and love again.

Of course, life as an independent woman in 1932 is hard. A typist for Southern Counties Insurance, Violet barely makes enough money to cover her rent at Mrs. Harvey's boardinghouse. Budgeting for one hot dinner a week and subsisting on margarine and Marmite sandwiches leaves Violet practically starving. She's emotionally starving, too. Chevalier (New Boy, 2017, etc.) masterfully portrays the bleak lives of the “surplus women” left to carry on after a generation of young men—their potential husbands—were killed in World War I. Telling the tale of the Lost Generation from a woman's perspective, Chevalier fills in the outlines of these forgotten women with unending penny-pinching, mended dresses, and lonely evenings with tea and a Trollope novel. Yet a chance glimpse into a special service at her church opens the door to Violet’s healing: She finds the broderers, a group of women embroidering gorgeous, colorful seats and kneelers for the church. Led by the vibrant Louisa Pesel (and her dour assistant, Mrs. Biggins), the broderers' guild offers Violet a chance to make something beautiful and lasting in a world that has been dark and has cut off life at its knees for too long. In Chevalier’s novel, the embroidery circle becomes a metaphorical tapestry, threading all these women together. Soon Violet has not only joined the circle, but also made unexpected friends. Violet also discovers her own courage to try for love, a love her society would condemn, but in these days and in this author’s hands, all love is sacred.

A compelling portrait of women not lost but thriving against the odds.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-55824-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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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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