FOOLS OF FORTUNE

Again, as in many of his recent short stories, Trevor devotes this immaculate new novel to the insidious legacy, the spreading stain, of random acts of violence—specifically those rooted in Ireland's "continuing battleground." The most richly kind and gentle of people—like the mill-owning Quintons of Kilneagh—can become the fools of fortune in the wake of violence, as recalled by William Quinton in the novel's first section. William remembers himself at age eight in 1918, tutored by Father Kilgarriff, a mysteriously unfrocked priest, in a "scarlet dining room fragrant with the scent of roses." He recalls his father, a "bulky, lazy-looking" man who favors a teddy-bear dressing gown and walking down a silent avenue of beech trees trailed by his dogs; pretty English-born Mother, who wields untroubled authority; two small sisters; and, in the "orchard wing" of Kilneagh, Aunt Fitzeustace of "notable jaw" and timid Aunt Pansy. But this rose-scented idyll will be blasted apart after the Quintons, foes of injustice, welcome revolutionist Michael Collins at Kilneagh: the children are thrilled and horrified by the obscene execution of Doyle, one of Father's mill workers, who has been spying for the Black and Tans. And then an English spy named Rudkin, Doyle's contact, will wave a friendly greeting on a street comer to Father and Willie—the day before Father's body smoulders on the stairs of Kilneagh, the two screaming little girls dying in flames. . . while bullets splatter and the dogs' barking abruptly stops. In the years that follow, while Mother sinks into grieving alcoholism, Willie finds cruelty and hatred at school but finds love with his English cousin Marianne. And though, after Mother dies of self-inflicted violence, Willie fulfills a vengeful legacy and leaves Ireland, Marianne will bear his child: Imelda, who'll be raised, fatherless, in the ruins of Kineagh, sealed into the bitter past by Marianne and those aging wraiths of the orchard wing. So, even decades later, the screams of burning children will still sound over the scent of roses—in the mind of mad, middle-aged Imelda. Like the story "Matilda's England" in Lovers of Their Time: a masterly tracing of the shadow of violence through time, muted but never canceled out by love—in a restrained, elegant, austerely affecting family-tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1983

ISBN: 0143039628

Page Count: 207

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

more