Touching and well-written.


Linked perspectives connect the quirky residents of an apartment building in Somer’s second novel (Imperfections, 2012).

Though it appears unremarkable from the outside, the Seville on Roxy—a “Multi-Residential, High-Density High-Rise”—is teeming with life. And as a goldfish named Ian plunges from a fishbowl on a 27th-floor balcony toward the pavement, he registers brief glimpses of the lives occurring within, which Somer fleshes into vivid, interwoven strands. There’s Katie, a sensitive college student visiting the Seville to find out if her boyfriend loves her; meanwhile, Connor Radley, said boyfriend, clears his apartment of guilty debris (and the woman in his bed). A landlord named Jiminez attempts to fix the building’s broken elevator, forcing everyone to take the stairs—including social outcast Herman and Garth, a burly construction worker clutching a secret package. On the eighth floor, the heavily pregnant Petunia Delilah goes into labor alone while, several apartments over, Claire the shut-in loses her job at a phone-sex line. As their perspectives cycle through, the residents’ lives collide in unexpected ways. As she climbs the stairs, Katie passes Connor’s lover wearing her own nightshirt, forcing her to “stay amid her delusions in the stairwell” or confront her clearly unfaithful boyfriend. Petunia knocks on nearby doors for help, and Garth unwraps the package and changes into his beautiful dress, unaware that an unanticipated visitor may soon discover his secret. As the action in the Seville mounts, confrontations play out, lives hang in the balance, and identities are exposed. Somer has created well-developed characters and effectively transports the reader into their three-dimensional worlds; there are also genuinely touching moments, as when Claire and Herman attempt to deliver Petunia’s baby with the help of an emergency response worker. Somer stitches things together a bit too neatly, however. From Ian’s eventual salvation to Claire’s link to the emergency response worker, these coincidences detract from the story’s believability; nonetheless, the plot’s center of human kindness mostly makes up the difference.

Touching and well-written.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4668-6170-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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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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