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MR. GWYN

Although the events he recounts remain cryptic, Baricco’s style is lucid, and the appearance-versus-reality mind games he...

Two novellas, thematically related by the theme of love...or the lack of love.

The first, Mr. Gwyn, is a tour de force of literary fiction about a mysterious, somewhat reclusive and definitely quirky author. At 43, much to the distress of his agent, Jasper Gwyn has tired of writing books. After a brief and restless hiatus, he's inspired to create “portraits” in a way analogous to that of visual artists. He rents a studio and even commissions a composer to create “mood music” appropriate for the space. Then, to practice his craft, he hires his agent's assistant, Rebecca, to visit the studio four hours a day for 30 days. She simply lives her life there (though without clothing), and Gwyn observes her, though some days he doesn’t even bother to show up. At the end of that time, he produces a portrait in words that Rebecca finds extraordinarily insightful and deeply moving. Gwyn develops his talents and winds up with a flourishing business for those who want their portraits “painted” in words; the most meaningful one is for his agent, who has a terminal illness. Throughout the story, Baricco suggests that Gwyn is able to do in words what he can’t in life—get close to people. Rebecca then makes a startling discovery, believing that Gwyn has plagiarized his portraits from another author, Klarisa Rode, but in fact, he's begun publishing under assumed names. One of his works, published under the name Akash Narayan, is titled "Three Times at Dawn," not so coincidentally the name of Baricco's second novella. Though slighter, in some ways, this story is even more complex, for it focuses on three separate episodes revolving around a seedy hotel. In the first, Malcolm Webster meets a mysterious and seductive woman in his hotel room, while in the second, a young woman flirts with the hotel clerk (perhaps an older Malcolm Webster) as she tries to get some perspective on her relationship with her boyfriend up in their room. In the final section, a teenager, the younger Malcolm Webster, escapes from the squalor of the hotel with a woman detective as he deals with his dysfunctional family.

Although the events he recounts remain cryptic, Baricco’s style is lucid, and the appearance-versus-reality mind games he plays with his readers are fascinating.

Pub Date: July 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-938073-96-0

Page Count: 280

Publisher: McSweeney’s

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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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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