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Darkly playful; a warning without a moral.

A silent stranger of indeterminate origin is discovered sleeping on a church pew in Lacey’s haunting fable about morality and self-delusion.

A nice churchgoing family—Hilda, Steven, and their three boys—in the small-town American South stumbles on someone lying down before services on Sunday and agrees to take the stranger in. “Steven and I decided that you can stay with us as long as it takes,” Hilda tells the stranger, who responds with silence. The stranger is illegible to them—racially ambiguous, of indeterminate gender, unclear age, no obvious nationality—and as an interim solution, the reverend decides they’ll call the stranger Pew, “until you get around to telling us something different.” They are kind, at first, and patient. Their questions as to Pew’s identity are only meant to help, they say—“we really don’t think you’ve done anything wrong, exactly,” and “God loves all his children exactly the same”—but still, they need to know “which one” Pew is, and Pew continues to say nothing. But other people do: Invited by Pew’s silence, they begin to confide in Pew, offering sometimes-chilling windows into their past lives. Pew, publicly silent but an acute observer of societal dynamics, is both the novel's narrator and its center, an outside lens into an insular and unsettling world. Pew’s only peer is Nelson, adopted by one of the church families from “someplace having a war,” a fellow charity case, ill at ease in town. “My whole family was killed in the name of God,” he says, “and now these people want me to sing a hymn like it was all some kind of misunderstanding.” As the week wears on, tensions begin to rise as the community prepares for its annual “Forgiveness Festival,” an ominous cleansing ritual central to the cohesion of the town. “The time right after, everyone’s more peaceful,” Nelson’s mother tells Pew. “Of course right now it’s a little more dangerous for everyone.” Setting her third novel in a placid town built on a foundation of unspeakable violence, Lacey (Certain American States, 2018, etc.)—spare and elegant as ever—creates a story that feels at the same time mythological and arrestingly like life.

Darkly playful; a warning without a moral.

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-23092-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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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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