Gass, now 88, clearly has endings on his mind, which he addresses with fearsome brio and wit.

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MIDDLE C

Misanthropy, atrocity, the Midwest—Gass revisits some familiar themes in this novel, though this ride is smoother than its epic predecessor, The Tunnel (1995).

The hero of this engaging, melancholy novel is Joseph Skizzen, an Ohio music professor who consistently dissembles to get ahead in life, from the driver’s license he faked to get his first job to the CV he invented to enter academia. But, Gass wants us to ask, aren’t we all born into lives of fraudulence? Joseph’s father, we learn early on, repeatedly changed identities to smuggle himself and his family out of Austria in advance of the Nazi horrors. In a struggle to reckon with that past, Joseph privately maintains an Inhumanity Museum, filled with newspaper clippings and photos of war, genocide and further proofs of mankind at its worst. Joseph’s deep-seated frustration with man’s inherent insincerity is exemplified by a sentence he obsessively revises: “The fear that the human race might not survive has been replaced by the fear that it will endure.” Gass positions Joseph as symbolic of civilization’s pervasive mediocrity: The title refers to a piano note but also suggests middle-class anxieties, mid-20th-century social catastrophes, Midwestern simplicity and middle-of-the-pack intelligence. (Joseph was a C student.) In comparison to the black-heartedness of The Tunnel, this is practically a comedy, and its pleasures shouldn’t be discounted. Gass remains a master of apt metaphors, graceful sentences and a flinty, unforgiving brand of humor; it may be the most entertaining novel you’ll read that half wishes humanity was wiped off the map. And though Joseph feels more like a symbol than a character, his neuroses over God, power and survival make him a rare creature in contemporary American fiction: a man as concerned with the big picture as with himself.

Gass, now 88, clearly has endings on his mind, which he addresses with fearsome brio and wit.

Pub Date: March 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-307-70163-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013

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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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