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ALABASTER HOUSES

A tour de force that makes readers face hard truths about the effect a person’s choices can have on her soul.

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McLaughlin invites readers on a journey of the heart in this celebration of life, death and what it means to be human.

After fighting cancer for a year, teenage Amy finally starts to feel better. Then she dies in a tragic accident. Her mother Jane feels so much guilt that she lets her daughter’s death tear her life apart. One year after Amy’s death, Jane’s husband has left her and her son spends a lot of time with his dad, leaving Jane alone for days at a time. She passes these days with human-rights photographer Riva Hakim, whom is dying. Riva is also the wife of the late professor who was Amy’s biological father. While Jane has begun to deal with the guilt she feels over Amy’s death, she still has a long way to go when we first meet her. Riva, for her part, is trying to die well, and that includes forgiving the man who cheated on her as a course of habit, and opening up to a friendship with Jane as well as putting down her camera to write her memoirs. As she writes, Riva remembers the places she’s seen in the world—the trauma, tragedy and joy—and fights to see how these things have changed her. Her faith in God brings her peace during this difficult time, and she tries to lead Jane to that peace as well. As the two women journey, together and separate, they learn how to make peace with their pasts and how to go on into the future, whatever it asks of them. They learn that a dream can be a downfall, that endings are also beginnings and that what God has in store for a life may not be what the liver of that life always thought they wanted. McLaughlin’s storytelling is superb, deftly handling both women’s stories and the transitions between them, allowing readers to easily follow along. She also expertly handles emotions, making Jane and Riva’s grief, loss, anger and joy palpable.

A tour de force that makes readers face hard truths about the effect a person’s choices can have on her soul.

Pub Date: June 10, 2011

ISBN: 978-1456354626

Page Count: 344

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2011

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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OF MICE AND MEN

Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed.

This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel." It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define.  Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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