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Only for the most determined aficionados of the avant-garde.

More gorgeously written, dramatically inert fiction from Maso (Defiance, 1998, etc.), this time set in a vaguely apocalyptic landscape.

It’s the Age of Funnels (tornadoes to you), and the Vortex Man rules. Frequent elliptical references to falling towers and a burning city suggest that the Valley where Maso’s mother and child live is a place to which people fled after some catastrophic event that both is and is not the World Trade Center attack. The author’s intent is clearly non-naturalistic: The novel opens with a tree splitting in half, emitting a torrent of bats and a stream of light, and over the course of the narrative, parent and child burst into flames, descend into the center of the earth and commune with Egyptian gods. Yet Maso sends mixed messages. Allusions to evangelical Christians, the Catholic Church pedophile scandals and artists from Ingmar Bergman to Damien Hirst situate the book in something like a recognizable universe. So why is San Francisco called the City of Saint Francis, and China is GinGin, but India is India, and the North Pole still has its own name? It’s more like a jigsaw puzzle than a novel, though the World Trade Center allusions build toward a passage that attempts to make this event the linchpin of her protagonists’ lives as well as the catalyst for a world in which low-level war seems to be perpetual. Instead of creating a consistent alternative universe, Maso simply tosses together a hodgepodge of material designed to evoke both fairy tales and recent history without meaningfully engaging either. Characters have names like the Girl with the Matted Hair and the Grandmother from the North Pole, but they don’t have personalities or purpose. Lacking plot or psychology to anchor their attention, readers are likely to drift from one beautiful but baffling passage to another, wondering What It All Means.

Only for the most determined aficionados of the avant-garde.

Pub Date: July 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-58243-818-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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The mother of all presidential cover-ups is the centerpiece gimmick in this far-fetched thriller from first-novelist Baldacci, a Washington-based attorney. In the dead of night, while burgling an exurban Virginia mansion, career criminal Luther Whitney is forced to conceal himself in a walk-in closet when Christine Sullivan, the lady of the house, arrives in the bedroom he's ransacking with none other than Alan Richmond, President of the US. Through the one-way mirror, Luther watches the drunken couple engage in a bout of rough sex that gets out of hand, ending only when two Secret Service men respond to the Chief Executive's cries of distress and gun down the letter-opener-wielding Christy. Gloria Russell, Richmond's vaultingly ambitious chief of staff, orders the scene rigged to look like a break-in and departs with the still befuddled President, leaving Christy's corpse to be discovered at another time. Luther makes tracks as well, though not before being spotted on the run by agents from the bodyguard detail. Aware that he's shortened his life expectancy, Luther retains trusted friend Jack Graham, a former public defender, but doesn't tell him the whole story. When Luther's slain before he can be arraigned for Christy's murder, Jack concludes he's the designated fall guy in a major scandal. Meanwhile, little Gloria (together with two Secret Service shooters) hopes to erase all tracks that might lead to the White House. But the late Luther seems to have outsmarted her in advance with recurrent demands for hush money. The body count rises as Gloria's attack dogs and Jack search for the evidence cunning Luther's left to incriminate not only a venal Alan Richmond but his homicidal deputies. The not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper climax provides an unsurprising answer to the question of whether a US president can get away with murder. For all its arresting premise, an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins. (Film rights to Castle Rock; Book-of-the-Month selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-446-51996-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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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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