Diffuse, disjointed and ultimately tiresome.



A skewed portrait of a collapsing New York City family, told through the eyes of a pubescent girl.

Murphy’s follow-up to her debut novel, Sea of Trees (1997), has something not unlike a plot: The unnamed narrator (her last name’s Smith, and the clerk at the A&P calls her “Smitty”) attempts to keep her family together after her father, who’s left for another woman, mysteriously disappears. Smitty has her work cut out for her, given that her mother is constantly broke, her brother is a suicidal pothead guitarist, her two sisters are apparently powerless and her ailing grandmother has moved into their apartment—which, by the way, is miserably stacked full of garbage because nobody can afford to have it removed. Sad stuff on the face of it, but it’s never clear if Murphy wants to play this as tragedy, absurdist comedy or something in between. Smitty herself is hard to get a read on: She casually peppers her statements with the f-word and calls her father’s new girlfriend “the slut,” but none of it makes her seem tough, but more like grimly lackadaisical. She hangs out with John, who runs a hot-dog stand; he routinely feels Smitty up, though that doesn’t stop her from continuing to visit him. This joyless, inchoate tale is salvaged somewhat by Murphy’s skill for lovely imagery: Cornsilk strands hang off Smitty’s father’s arms “like tassels from a cowboy’s suede coat”; the shop teacher covered in filings “glows with all his metal shining.” But the book is more an assortment of cobbled-together episodes and observations than a coherent story. Just as the search for the absent father begins to gather steam, random plot twists intrude—a long-lost aunt arrives, Smitty learns to bend spoons with her mind. Perhaps there’s a postmodern, anti-narrative commentary buried within all this, but only the most generous reader will care to hunt for it.

Diffuse, disjointed and ultimately tiresome.

Pub Date: March 12, 2006

ISBN: 1-932416-50-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: McSweeney’s

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2006

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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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