A precise and moving evocation both of a vanishing lifestyle and of the liberating power of faith.

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JAYBER CROW

THE LIFE STORY OF JAYBER CROW, BARBER, OF THE PORT WILLIAM MEMBERSHIP, AS WRITTEN BY HIMSELF

An elegiac celebration of the redemptive power of love and community, by the prolific poet, novelist, and essayist.

This tenth work of fiction by Berry is set, like most of its predecessors (A World Lost, 1996, etc.), in the fictional precincts of Port William, Kentucky, one of the most richly imagined communities in contemporary fiction. Jayber Crow, the town barber for over thirty years, beginning in the 1930s, offers a first-person recollection both of the town's quiet communal pleasures and of the efforts of its hardworking, and often hard-pressed, farmers to secure some measure of personal happiness. Their struggles are made somewhat easier by the unspoken but profound sense of community that most in Port William share, a commitment to support each other through the hard patches of life without calling attention to the help being given or taken. Jayber, an orphan and an outsider, is more aware of the complex interdependence of families and friends than most. His barbershop is a focal point of local society, a place in which many come to relax, to exchange or confirm news, and to share gossip. And Jayber, cordial but closemouthed, becomes a confidant—and confessor—to many. While the leisurely narrative is in part Jayber's recollections of the everyday patterns and intermittent sorrows of the community, it is also the record of the impossible love Jayber harbors, for most of his adult life, for Maggie, a warm, intelligent woman married to the hustling, manipulative Troy Cheatham. Berry's work has often displayed an interest in the nature and effect of religious faith. That interest takes center stage here. Jayber's love for Maggie, rather than corroding his character because it can never be expressed, leads him to a serene faith, which meets its greatest test as Port William is overcome by the modern world (farms fail, families fray and disperse, and the ubiquitous developers move in) and Maggie becomes mortally ill. Jayber's hard-won acceptance of loss offers a compelling and—by contemporary standards—quite unusual climax.

A precise and moving evocation both of a vanishing lifestyle and of the liberating power of faith. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2000

ISBN: 1-58243-029-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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