The collected short fiction of the great Russian-born writer (1899—1977) who became a master of fiction in three languages and whose imposingly irascible presence on the 20th-century literary scene has perhaps obscured full recognition of his genius as symbolist, savant, and storyteller. There's little here that can be called apprentice work, even among the earliest of this rich volume's 65 stories, a gathering that ranges from the early 1920s through mid-1950s and assembles the contents of four previously published volumes plus 13 uncollected stories. Literary influences are only intermittently blatant (e.g., in the Chekhovian "Christmas" and Gogolian "Razor," and in "Bachmann," a disturbingly enigmatic account of a thwarted romance that reads like an early Thomas Mann story). Fantasy and supernaturalism are strongly present in such accomplished and eerie pieces as "Lik," "Tyrants Destroyed," and "The Vane Sisters," the latter being perhaps the most archly self-indulgent ghost story ever written. What may surprise many readers is the relative scarcity of tales in which Nabokov's notoriously Olympian sensibility is clearly revealed. Only in the icy "A Dashing Fellow" (whose lustful protagonist withholds from his conquest the news of her father's death) and the equally mordant "Details of a Sunset" do we feel a judgmental or condescending authorial presence. The many stories dealing with Russian emigres in Europe seeking aesthetic and romantic fulfillment, include several of Nabokov's most affecting: "The Fight," "A Guide to Berlin," and "A Russian Beauty" are prominent examples. Best of all, there's "The Potato Elf," a weird, troubling story of a fatal love triangle featuring preternaturally vivid characters and replete with ingenious sexual symbolism. The products of an incomparably rich imagination, these 65 wonders comprise a virtual education in how fiction—well, ought to be written. An indispensable book.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 1995

ISBN: 0-394-58615-8

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1995

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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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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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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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