Several of Smith's stories are on their ways to becoming classics.

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GRAND UNION

Nineteen erudite stories wheel through a constellation of topics, tones, and fonts to dizzying literary effect.

After launching a quiver of short fiction in the New Yorker, Granta, and the Paris Review, Smith adds 11 new pieces to publish her first collection. A reader can enter anywhere, as with Smith’s bravura “The Lazy River,” which “unlike the river of Heraclitus, is always the same no matter where you happen to step into it.” The artificial aquatic amusement, rotating endlessly through a Spanish resort, is “a non-judgement zone” for tourists where “we’re submerged, all of us.” Wit marbles Smith’s fiction, especially the jaunty “Escape From New York,” which riffs on the urban legend that Michael Jackson—“people had always overjudged and misunderestimated him”—ferried Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando in a rental car out of the smoking debris of 9/11. Even in “Two Men Arrive in a Village,” a global parable of horror and repetition, absurdity bubbles up: “After eating, and drinking—if it is a village in which alcohol is permitted—the two men will take a walk around...and, as they reach out for your watch or cigarettes or wallet or phone or daughter, the short one, in particular, will say solemn things like ‘Thank you for your gift.’ ” In the wondrous “Words and Music,” the survivor of a pair of disputatious sisters meditates on peak musical experiences. “Kelso Deconstructed” takes up the bleak, racist real-life stabbing of Kelso Cochrane in London in 1959, and “Meet the President!” is set in an even bleaker future where a wailing child interrupts a young teenager’s elaborate virtual video game, her misery “an acute high pitched sound, such as a small animal makes when, out of sheer boredom, you break its leg.” Much less successful are “Downtown” and “Parents’ Morning Epiphany,” which read like fragments trying to become essays. Still, Smith begins and ends with two arresting mother-daughter tales—the first nestled in alienation, the last, “Grand Union,” in communion with the dead.

Several of Smith's stories are on their ways to becoming classics.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-55899-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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