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THE MASTER OF MONTEREY

As Jones says, this land is adrift from history, and Coates brings it alive.

Second-novelist Coates (the award-winning Blossom Festival, not reviewed) returns with the tale of a confused ship and commodore waging an imaginary war on California.

The 1842 real-life attack on Monterey is here turned into farce. We join the hapless Commodore Jones as he and his trusty companion and ex-slave Hannibal acquire their ship, named for Jones’s lost love, Louisa Darling, and set about gathering a crew. These include Rafael Rafael, who has the Adamic gift of a third testicle; seaman extraordinaire Merry Jack Chase; and William Waxdeck, the epic poet to whom Jones assigns the task of recording their adventure in verse. In a story sometimes reminiscent of Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage, at least in spirit, the ship is eventually assigned the task of taking California in a war that may or may not be happening. There need be only one shot on the Presidio to do it—and it’s a cannonball that rips through the wedding party of the beautiful Arcadia, who has been a virgin since she was three years old, has trained to be a nun, but has also learned that the way to be fruitful is not by touching oneself but by encountering the snakeman. Arcadia has secretly been longing for the American ship to interrupt her marriage, but will the commodore’s attack really just amount to a ship of fools? After all, isn’t Jones a little too preoccupied with the epic poet’s progress? And is there really a war anyway, and if so, are those who have just been attacked authorized to surrender? Coates’s prose pulls off this pseudo-history with a flavoring of magic realism: “When the Commodore told him to ready the ship for California, he was thirty-five, in the middle of some road or other, and he hadn’t looked in a mirror for more than twenty years.”

As Jones says, this land is adrift from history, and Coates brings it alive.

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-87417-529-1

Page Count: 360

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2003

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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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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