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THE DISAPPARATION OF JAMES

A mess, with a circular plot and overripe style (“How do you contain so much prose and still exist?”): the sort of story...

A florid and in the end pointless account of a boy’s disappearance, written by Ursu (Spilling Clarence, 2002) in a tone of the utmost gravitas.

What is every parent’s worst fear? Losing a child, of course. Ask Justin and Hannah Woodrow. A modern midwestern couple (working Mom, stay-at-home Dad), the Woodrows are devoted to their children (Greta and James) and to each other. On Greta’s seventh birthday, they all go the Lindberg Performing Arts Center to see the Razzlers Circus Stage Show, which includes a disappearing act by Mike the Clown. Mike asks for volunteers and five-year-old James runs up to the stage, where Mike makes him disappear—but not come back. A Seinfeld episode? Not really, since no one (the cops least of all) is laughing. The eerie Mike is held for questioning but soon released (habeas corpus doesn’t help much in vanishing cases), and Officer Tom Johnson has to admit that there’s not a clue in sight. It’s hard on the family, of course: Hannah sinks into depression, Justin becomes obsessed with magic and tracks down magicians to buy their secrets, and little Greta turns into a housebound introvert convinced she can will James back from the void. Eventually, Officer Johnson moves into their house for full-time surveillance, and Mike the Clown finds that his act has become more popular than ever as a result of ghoulish publicity. In the end, James returns as mysteriously as he left, and the Woodrows are happily reunited—though permanently scarred by their awareness that the worst calamity is always possible.

A mess, with a circular plot and overripe style (“How do you contain so much prose and still exist?”): the sort of story that shouldn’t have been let out of the workshop.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-7868-6779-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2002

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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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