A multilayered, multivocal, and long-awaited pleasure for the Self-absorbed.

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PHONE

Zack Busner returns, and, “tired and confused,” he’s melting away into air as the world goes mad in Self’s (Shark, 2014, etc.) magnum opus.

Zack, who has appeared in many of Self’s stories and novels, including Great Apes and Umbrella, is losing his mooring to the world, so much so that his withdrawn grandson has given him a cellphone so he can keep in touch. “You don’t gotta have an abstract sorta noise-thingy,” explains the grandson of the ringtone. “You can download a tune, or even someone singing an old pop song.” The cellphone is endlessly noisy. After a stream-of-consciousness opening, Self locates kindred phones in the hands and pockets of other players, notably recurrent character Jonathan De’Ath, an intelligence agent known as “the Butcher,” who ponders the whole business of “waiting for a lover, an agent, an asset—a phone call.” He’s not so bad, protests De’Ath; it’s his closeted, hidden boyfriend, Gawain Thomas, a military officer who has served around the world and seen combat in plenty of unhappy places, who’s done the real misdeeds. Zack, who has done specialized work in healing the psychic wounds of war veterans, is heading down the road of dementia; he still has the presence of mind, though, to puzzle over things like autism (“a canary of the coalmine of the human condition”) and the mysteries of memory (“dreams and emotions all deformed by the decades they’d spent buried deep in the system”). Meanwhile, De’Ath and Thomas wrestle with demons of their own in Self’s onrushing narrative, more than 600 pages without a paragraph break, inside which nothing much happens but a lot gets talked and thought about. Self makes subtle nods to modernist classics such as Ulysses along the way, unironically making Zack a kind of Leopold Bloom, though in his anxieties and preoccupations he could be someone from the pages of Howard Jacobson.

A multilayered, multivocal, and long-awaited pleasure for the Self-absorbed.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2537-8

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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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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