Full of larger-than-life characters, strong men and stronger women who marry personal passions to national events, Kennedy's...

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CHANGO'S BEADS AND TWO-TONE SHOES

Kennedy (Roscoe, 2002, etc.), whose 1983 Albany-centered novel Ironwood won the Pulitzer Prize, returns to his upstate New York home turf with a side trip to Cuba in this decades-jumping novel about a journalist's less-than-objective brushes with history.

In 1936 Albany, 8-year-old Daniel Quinn hears Bing Crosby and a black man named Cody singing a duet with a borrowed piano in the house of a man named Alex, an experience that becomes a dream-like memory of musical and racial harmony. In 1957, Quinn is a fledgling journalist in Havana—Kennedy covered Cuba as a journalist himself—where Hemingway makes Quinn his second in a duel with an American tourist, the novel's version of comic relief. Through Hemingway, Quinn is hired by Max, the editor of The Havana Post, who happened to be present at the Bing-Cody duet. And Quinn falls in love with Renata, Max's ex-sister-in-law, a striking beauty involved with the anti-Batista movement. They quickly marry in part because the wedding gives them a legitimate excuse to travel into the mountains where Quinn hopes to find Fidel Castro. Quinn sets off for his interview, in which Fidel comes off as a philosophical tactician, but when he returns Renata has disappeared, probably taken by Batista goons. Cut to 1968, the day after Robert Kennedy is shot. Quinn is back in Albany, working as a reporter. Renata is back with him, but the marriage is floundering. With them live Daniel’s father George, who is suffering from dementia, and Renata's niece (Max's daughter) Gloria, who has recently suffered a nervous breakdown. In love with Cody’s son Roy, Gloria is also involved with her godfather Alex, now the corrupt mayor of Albany, where racial tensions are peaking.

Full of larger-than-life characters, strong men and stronger women who marry personal passions to national events, Kennedy's novel has the mark of genius, yet a surfeit of names and plot threads discourage readers from fully engaging.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-670-02297-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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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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