Not easy but rewarding and certainly timely; Mattison’s complex prose matches the multidimensional moral arguments raging...


While exploring the deeply flawed yet enduring marriage of two Vietnam War–era activists now leading comfortable bourgeois lives in New Haven, Connecticut, Mattison (Nothing is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn, 2008, etc.) also tackles broader issues, including the value of risk versus caution in the name of idealism.

After falling in love as zealous student anti-war protestors, editor and literary biographer Olive—who's white and an “intermittently and selectively observant” Jew—married African-American school principal Griff, a nonpracticing Christian. Their long marriage was interrupted by several years of separation, and while their relationship has more or less recovered, Olive chafes at Griff’s irritating presence while resenting his frequent absence. Now a new marital crisis arises when Olive is assigned to write an essay concerning a novel written years earlier by her sort-of friend Val, a bestseller Val openly based on a romanticized version of the life of Olive’s close friend Helen, whose radicalism led to violent tragedy. Meanwhile, Griff is elected president of the board of a local community service center and finds himself in conflict with Jean, who runs the center. Risk-averse Griff considers Jean too “casual about trouble” while she considers him “controlling” and overcautious—and both are right. Then Jean, with whom Olive has forged a friendship, reads Val’s novel, which Griff has long avoided finishing, and notices Griff’s resemblance to a late-appearing character who influences the Helen character’s decisions. Ironically, Olive considers Griff’s self-blame for the real harm he may or may not have caused an overweening intrusion into her grief over Helen. Olive and Griff’s struggles as youthful activists balancing the limits of liberalism against the excesses of radicalism as a cure for social ills interlace with Olive's and Jean’s current efforts to define themselves emotionally within an ethical context (Griff having done so long ago). Not to mention the question they raise about whether fiction must be accurate.

Not easy but rewarding and certainly timely; Mattison’s complex prose matches the multidimensional moral arguments raging inside her prickly, multidimensional characters.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68177-789-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet



A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet