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THE WEEKEND

Amid ongoing revelation, all narrative strands (and there are many) are tied neatly by the end.

A tight literary contrivance by the novelist best known for The Reader (1997).

Imagine The Big Chill transplanted to the German countryside in the wake of 9/11 terrorism. As the title suggests, this narrative encompasses a single weekend, Friday through Sunday, which represents a reunion of those who were close (even lovers) during their university days, but who have seen their lives take significantly different paths. The impetus for the gathering is the pardon of Jörg, a convicted terrorist who has been imprisoned for more than two decades for the murder of at least four victims. His older sister, Christiane, has been like a mother to him (though some suspect a lover as well), and she has arranged for the gathering of former friends (and spouses and a few interlopers) to welcome her brother back to the world at the country house she shares with Margarete. Christiane and Margarete may or may not be lovers, though the romantic alliances that begin the novel are likely to shift before its end (or there would be no novel). Among the guests is a noted journalist who might be able to help Jörg make his case with the public. He was once Jörg’s best friend, later (and briefly) became the lover of Christiane and is suspected by Jörg of the tip to authorities that led to his arrest. There is also a back story, a gathering from some 30 years earlier, at a funeral for a friend to them all who mysteriously committed suicide. At least one of the friends believes that the suicide was a fake, that the purported suicide was also a terrorist who may still be alive. She spends the weekend writing a novel within the novel concerning this possibility, constructing a narrative that “she couldn’t research, but had to fantasize.” Jörg finds himself in a tug of war between a younger radical who wants him to issue an unrepentant proclamation and a lawyer who wants Jörg to cut ties with his terrorist past.

Amid ongoing revelation, all narrative strands (and there are many) are tied neatly by the end.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-37815-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2010

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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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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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