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A finely wrought if somewhat melancholy first novel.

A group of brainy friends in Austin, Texas, struggles with the complications of adulthood in hard times.

"Lying in bed, Flannery wished love wasn't so hard on a person." The reader wishes it too after sharing the troubles of the young climate scientist and her friends in this debut novel. As the story begins, Flannery is leaving her adored Nigerian boyfriend and life in Africa behind because her project has been shut down for lack of funding. Back home in Austin, she finds more to worry about. Among her tight-knit circle, most of whom met at a small engineering college with designs on being the "Harvard of the South," little is going right. Her sister, Molly, is beginning to show signs of the Huntington's disease that killed their mom and is alienated from her husband, Brandon. Molly moves out to the ranch where their friend Alyce has a fellowship to pursue her weaving; Alyce is suffering from a depression so severe that she's asked her architect husband, Harry, to take their boys and leave the ranch. Harry and the kids move in with his business partner, Santiago, who's hiding the fact that the economic recession has driven their firm to the brink of ruin and is also nurturing a hopeless attachment to Flannery. In addition to, or because of, their current problems, the characters suffer from painful nostalgia for their carefree college days. Into this tapestry, Specht weaves fascinating details on snowflakes, weaving, birding, genetics and engineering, plus a spot-on portrait of Austin: "Tonight they walked past the bungalow with its garden lined with bowling balls; they walked past the purple A-frame housing a nonprofit shelter for gay youth, past the corner lot where a man lived inside a small historic church he'd had transported from East Texas."  

A finely wrought if somewhat melancholy first novel.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-234603-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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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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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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