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PALE HARVEST

A bravura debut.

Hepner debuts with a deeply moving and intellectually profound novel built on the iconic myth of the American West.

Think McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show or Horseman, Pass By. Hepner’s tale is set in the sparsely populated land north of the Great Salt Lake, where the descendants of Mormon pioneers now cultivate the land along a river, in their blood a consciousness of "the wildness of the desert.” The nearest town, "a passing-over place," is derelict but for a liquor store and co-op. Jack Selvedge, 21, parents dead a decade, works his grandfather’s acreage milking a hard living from 100 dairy cows. Jack’s uncle, fragile, often ill, helps only a bit. Jack expects to inherit half the land, but his grandfather betrays that implicit promise. Jack’s life grows more complicated when "beautiful…untouchable" Rebekah Rainsford and her mother return, fleeing an abusive father. Comprehending "how tenuous a thing was farming in the desert" and dealing with off-farm opportunities to set out on his own, Jack strides the pages, his unquenchable passion for damaged, fragile Rebekah burning, but he remains rooted in the land, understanding that farming is "the only true salvation he’d ever known." Bitter over his grandfather’s duplicity, Jack’s love for Rebekah fractures his hardened heart and touches his soul. Other characters—Blair, the widowed, flint-hard grandfather; Seth, a teen seeking the danger of rodeo bull-riding to escape; and especially Jack’s best friend, Heber, "a failed promise, a talented squanderer"—range through the narrative with impeccable authenticity. After a second, shattering betrayal, Jack leaves the farm to wander the high desert in a spiritual odyssey. Hepner draws a narrative exploring the existential angst smoldering in the rural West as family farmers who hold stewardship of the land confront social and economic conditions beyond their control.

A bravura debut.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-937226-39-8

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Torrey House Press

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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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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