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THE ROPE WALK

Brown (Confinement, 2004, etc.) has a delicate flair for language and the telling detail, but her Hallmark Hall of Fame...

A ten-year-old girl in a small Vermont town broadens her horizons while confronting the harsher reality presented by her new friendship with a young boy and an artist dying of AIDS.

Alice has grown up in a charmingly eccentric Victorian house surrounded by nature and a community of friends right out of a slightly updated Norman Rockwell. Since her mother’s death a month after Alice’s birth, she has been swaddled in protective love by her scholarly and seemingly perfect father, Archie, her five adoring older brothers and the family’s strict but lovable Vietnamese housekeeper. On the Memorial Day when Alice turns ten, her brothers build an elaborate rope-walk maze for her birthday party. One of the few other children at the party is Theo, the biracial grandson of some neighbors, visiting while his parents try to iron out marital difficulties. Theo’s grandfather, an otherwise “good” person, wants nothing to do with Theo because his father is black. When his wife has a stroke, he leaves Theo with Alice’s family indefinitely. Theo, a mix of impishness and vulnerability, is much more believable—and likable—than the cloyingly sensitive Alice. Another guest at Alice’s birthday party is Kenneth, who grew up with Archie, became a world-famous artist and has returned to live his last days in his sister’s house. Kenneth is immediately drawn to Alice. Mostly blind and very weak, he requests that she and Theo come read to him. Wanting to do something nice for Kenneth, the two children design and build their own rope walk. Unfortunately, Kenneth uses their walkway for a more unfortunate purpose. Archie, an imperfect father after all, sends Theo packing back to New York, but Theo and Alice find a way to remain friends.

Brown (Confinement, 2004, etc.) has a delicate flair for language and the telling detail, but her Hallmark Hall of Fame tendencies are sickly-sweet.

Pub Date: May 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-375-42463-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2007

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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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OF MICE AND MEN

Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed.

This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel." It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define.  Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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