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THE BEAN TREES

A warmhearted and highly entertaining first novel in which a poor but plucky Kentucky gift with a sharp tongue, soft heart and strong spirit sets out on a cross-country trip and arrives at surprising new meanings for love, friendship, and family—as well as overcoming the big and little fears that inhibit lives. Taylor Greer has always been afraid of two things: tires, one of which she saw explode and cripple a local tobacco farmer; and pregnancy, the common, constricting fate of her own mother and, generally, of young girls in Pittman County, KY, where she has grown up. To avoid the latter, Taylor, born Marietta, sets out on a set of the former to find a new life in the West. What she doesn't count on, however, is her flighty '55 Volkswagon temporarily "giving out" in the Oklahoma flatlands or the ditching of a dumbstruck Indian baby in the car while she has it fixed. By the time Taylor's car breaks down again, and finally, in Tucson, Taylor has figured out that the baby has been badly abused, but not how to support it or herself, or how to lure the baby back into trust, growth, and speech. So—she takes a job in a dreaded tire-repair shop from which her car refuses to budge, and meets a motley collection of sanctuary workers, refugees, other ex-Kentuckians, social workers, and spinsters who, together, help her to bolster her courage and create a real family for her sweet, stunned, unbidden child. A lovely, funny, touching and humane debut, reminiscent of the work of Hilma Wolitzer and Francine Prose.

Pub Date: March 16, 1987

ISBN: 0060915544

Page Count: 258

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1987

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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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