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THE LITTLE BLUE KITE

Think Jonathan Livingston Seagull with a long, winding tail, and you’ll have some of the feel of Danielewski’s latest.

A windy New Age parable by postmodern novelist Danielewski (The Familiar, Volume 5: Redwood, 2017, etc.).

Danielewski has spent the last few years writing endlessly long, genre-crunching novels that are projected to build to a series of a couple dozen thick volumes, making Proust look like a piker. This latest, falling outside that series, isn’t on its face intended for children, since it’s got big words like “devastated” and “endeavoring” and big themes like death and psychological dread, but it’s full of kid’s-book elements, if perhaps as filtered through the post-apocalyptic Hawaiians of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Kai is a kid with a penchant for flying kites, even as his granny warns that with enough string he might “reach the edge of the Murk.” It would spoil the fun to reveal just what the Murk and the “immense monster too immense for any one name and hungrier than all the emptiness that haunts the space between all the stars” are, but suffice it to say that Kai isn’t shy of tempting fate, the more so as he grows older. And grow older he must, and when he does—well, he’s got to choose whether to hunker down in the Murk or throw off the bonds and strings of grown-up life and fly free in the clear blue sky. Guess which he elects? Let Danielewski tell it: “Kai’s mind is wide open! Kai’s mind has become a sky!" One wonders if Kai’s been reading Michael Pollan’s book on psychedelics, but no matter; thanks to the little blue kite, he enjoys a fine trip. It’s not quite so straightforward, though, for, ever intent on playing language games, Danielewski offers three different ways to read the book, two of them signaled by typographic elements and the other the boring, old-fashioned method of reading the thing straight through. It’s up to the reader to judge which is most rewarding—and whether the trip, though refreshingly brief, was worth the effort.

Think Jonathan Livingston Seagull with a long, winding tail, and you’ll have some of the feel of Danielewski’s latest.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4769-5

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z(2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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