While Bitov’s intelligence and gift for intellectual play are never in doubt, the novel hits the head rather than the heart.

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THE SYMMETRY TEACHER

A postmodern novel of dizzying intricacy.

Bitov plays mind games of all sorts with his readers—he includes puns, excerpts from made-up novels, false footnotes and comments on nonexistent manuscripts. The book's subtitle is “A Novel-Echo,” and from the title page, Bitov moves immediately into a second title page for The Teacher of Symmetry, a novel supposedly published in 1937 and written by A. Tired-Boffin. But wait…in an introductory note, Bitov talks about how this obscure novel had played an important role in his life and how he’d labored to translate it into Russian, so The Symmetry Teacher becomes an elaboration of Tired-Boffin’s novel…which is about an author named Urbino Vanoski, who’s written several books, excerpts of which appear in Bitov’s novel—with commentary by Tired-Boffin. Among the most amusing “excerpts” is “The End of the Sentence,” supposedly from Vanoski’s A Fly on a Ship. Here, we meet his narrator, Anton (are we not now at three or four removes from reality?), Tishkin (a “bombist” or terrorist), and Tishkin’s lover, Manya—and yes, the pun on “mania” is intended. Throughout the novel (Bitov’s? Tired-Boffin’s? Vanoski’s?), we find literary jokes such as the following epigraph: “The end of the sentence must be marked by a period.—A rule of punctuation.” In addition, one entire chapter is an excerpt from a poem by Ris Vokonabi, yet another fictional creation, and another chapter, “Posthumous Notes of the Tristram Club,” echoes both Dickens and Tristram Shandy.

While Bitov’s intelligence and gift for intellectual play are never in doubt, the novel hits the head rather than the heart.

Pub Date: July 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-27351-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Not his best, but a spooky pleasure for King’s boundless legion of fans.

THE OUTSIDER

Horrormeister King (End of Watch, 2016, etc.) serves up a juicy tale that plays at the forefront of our current phobias, setting a police procedural among the creepiest depths of the supernatural.

If you’re a little squeamish about worms, you’re really not going to like them after accompanying King through his latest bit of mayhem. Early on, Ralph Anderson, a detective in the leafy Midwestern burg of Flint City, is forced to take on the unpleasant task of busting Terry Maitland, a popular teacher and Little League coach and solid citizen, after evidence links him to the most unpleasant violation and then murder of a young boy: “His throat was just gone,” says the man who found the body. “Nothing there but a red hole. His bluejeans and underpants were pulled down to his ankles, and I saw something….” Maitland protests his innocence, even as DNA points the way toward an open-and-shut case, all the way up to the point where he leaves the stage—and it doesn’t help Anderson’s world-weariness when the evil doesn’t stop once Terry’s in the ground. Natch, there’s a malevolent presence abroad, one that, after taking a few hundred pages to ferret out, will remind readers of King’s early novel It. Snakes, guns, metempsychosis, gangbangers, possessed cops, side tours to jerkwater Texas towns, all figure in King’s concoction, a bloodily Dantean denunciation of pedophilia. King skillfully works in references to current events (Black Lives Matter) and long-standing memes (getting plowed into by a runaway car), and he’s at his best, as always, when he’s painting a portrait worthy of Brueghel of the ordinary gone awry: “June Gibson happened to be the woman who had made the lasagna Arlene Peterson dumped over her head before suffering her heart attack.” Indeed, but overturned lasagna pales in messiness compared to when the evil entity’s head caves in “as if it had been made of papier-mâché rather than bone.” And then there are those worms. Yuck.

Not his best, but a spooky pleasure for King’s boundless legion of fans.

Pub Date: May 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-8098-9

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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