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WATCHLIST

32 STORIES BY PERSONS OF INTEREST

Vivid examples of literature's power to help us understand our circumstances.

A new anthology looks at surveillance and its effects through the lens of fiction.

In 2013, PEN American Center issued a report called “Chilling Effects,” tracing the influence of government surveillance on literature. Of the 500-plus writers surveyed, more than 25 percent had backed away from controversial material or “considered doing so.” Clearly, the 32 contributors to “Watchlist” didn’t get the memo. Gathering short fiction from, among others, T.C. Boyle, Aimee Bender, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, and Jim Shepard, editor Hurt offers an array of responses to our culture of snooping, from the fantastic to the mundane. In Cory Doctorow’s “Scroogled,” a man passing through San Francisco International Airport is greeted by a sign declaring, “Immigration—Powered by Google”: a terrifying conflation yet at the same time oddly credible. Juan Pablo Villalobos’ “Terro(tour)istas” begins with that most mundane of contemporary acts, the liking of a Facebook post, before spiraling dangerously out of control. Most trenchant, perhaps, is Charles Yu’s “Coyote,” which imagines an organization in which the watchers are watching one another, noting small talk and lunch options, “a prepackaged chicken salad from Whole Foods” or a glass of the house red. “Carol,” Yu writes, “if she is looking into your file, knows you are investigating Henry. And therefore investigating her, albeit indirectly. And now you know that she knows that. And you also know that she doesn’t know that you know she knows.” There you have it, the whole ridiculous loop in a nutshell, observation for its own sake, with no strategic goal. This is the world we’ve constructed, in which information is no longer power but a mechanism of social restraint. Or, as Hurt puts it, in a smart and personal introduction, “The more we know about each other, the less we actually know.”

Vivid examples of literature's power to help us understand our circumstances.

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-936787-41-8

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Catapult

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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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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