Gleefully nasty. If Mel Brooks set The Producers in the publishing industry, he’d come up with something like this.



The fictional debut of Canadian travel-writer Ferguson (Hohhaido Highway Blues, 1998): an uproarious, uneven farce about the publication of the only self-help book that actually helps—and thus brings about “the end of the world (as we know it).”

Grumpy, snide, self-absorbed book editor Edwin de Valu is shoveling through the Panderic Books slush-pile when he finds a badly typed, badly written, utterly derivative 1,300-page manuscript encrusted with daisy stickers: What I Learned on the Mountain, by Tupak Soiree. Awful. But times are hard: Panderic’s line of Chicken Broth for the . . . books is played out, and its Mr. Ethics series is on hold now that Mr. Ethics is in jail again. De Valu has to come up with something for the new list, so, after a series of wonderfully comic misadventures, he edits and cuts down What I Learned on the Mountain, then retitles it Chocolates for the Soul. The mysterious Tupak Soiree then forces de Valu to publish the manuscript as is, though de Valu avenges himself on the impolitic author by printing it as cheaply as possible, with no cover illustration or promotion. But, alas, word of mouth triumphs. Soiree guests on Oprah and soon his perfectly perky self-help-crazed wife Jenni is repeating its “Live! Love! Learn!” mantra and employing its polyorgasmic “Li Bok” sex techniques to spice up their marriage. Great sex makes de Valu even grouchier as he notices the tobacco industry going bankrupt thanks to Soiree’s sure-fire quit-smoking method—to be followed by the fashion and make-up industries as people learn to be satisfied with themselves as they are. After Mr. Ethics escapes from jail, de Valu joins him in a desperate attempt to unmask Soiree and, perhaps, teach the world to be miserable again.

Gleefully nasty. If Mel Brooks set The Producers in the publishing industry, he’d come up with something like this.

Pub Date: June 10, 2002

ISBN: 1-84195-275-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Canongate

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2002

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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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