Raw-boned, heartfelt prose.

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WHAT YOU HAVE LEFT

Soulful, salt-of-the-earth tales of hurt and hope in redneck-proud South Carolina.

Like her NASCAR pioneer mother, Maddy, Holly is a hell-bent driver. She makes hardworking, hunky handyman Lyle mad with love, knocks back whiskey and searches for her father, Wylie, who deserted her as a kid right as Maddy perished from a blood-clot after a water-skiing accident. In shaky hands, this melodrama could border on Harry Crews’s po’-folk shtick, but debut novelist Allison keeps things steady. Alzheimer’s-ridden like his uncle and father before him, Cal, Holly’s grandfather, downs 20 sleeping pills in 1991, leaving Holly bereft. Half this story, then, is Holly’s and Lyle’s romance—their love tested by such mishaps as Lyle’s defiant burning of the Confederate flag atop the statehouse building in Charleston, and Holly’s blowing of the family savings on video-poker gambling. The other half flashes back to Maddy and Wylie—their alliance against the good ol’ boys jealous of Maddy’s race-winning ’62 Fairlane, their surviving of such outsized, small-town tragedy as the killing of his infant daughter by their next-door neighbor. In time, the storylines intersect, as Holly learns how to deal with ghosts of traumas past. From its Raymond Carver–esque title to its cast of big-hearted misfits, Allison’s picaresque isn’t terribly original. But it’s tender, smart and efficiently told. By the end, thin as a “martini toothpick,” his own mind given over to the dementia of Korsakoff’s syndrome, Wylie reunites with his daughter, and the frost inside her starts to melt: “Suddenly I’m five years old again, clinging to his neck as he trundles me away from the hole in the ground where they’ve just put my mother.”

Raw-boned, heartfelt prose.

Pub Date: June 5, 2007

ISBN: 1-4165-4139-X

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2007

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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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