A novel that shows our nation's path from refreshing nonconformity to end-times careerism.


This autobiographical novel about a year spent as Hunter S. Thompson’s personal assistant contains crazy highs (of course) and many dismal lows.

This is a harrowing book, depicting Thompson (here called Walker Reade) in the twilight of his career, with his writing powers waning and self-esteem in peril. He needs an assistant—and hires only young, female ones—to help him stay on track to finish a book. Della Pietra’s narrator, aspiring writer Alley Russo, wants to escape her dreary bartending gig on Long Island and the low expectations of her blue-collar family. She arrives in Colorado to find a group of hangers-on trying to keep Walker happy by laughing at his jokes and sharing his cocaine, and she feels the pressure to fall into lock step. The extent to which she does is what makes this story so horrifying, as well as fascinating. Alley clicks with Walker, and she captures his surly, blunt, occasionally brilliant dialogue with a writer’s ear. She joins in with the drug-taking and constant drinking, having been told it’s part of her duties, and also keeps him writing—an achievement in this atmosphere. But Walker has become a mean drunk and submits the women around him to a lot of abuse. He insists Alley dress sexier, even driving her to a local mall and giving judgments on outfits she models for him. He calls her “moron” one minute and has his hand on her knee the next. That an intelligent Ivy League graduate chooses to go along with this treatment, feeling there’s no other path away from anonymity, gives the book an undercurrent of horror. That said, it has the allure of a car crash—you’ll keep reading as Walker’s antics become more outrageous and his mood more foul. There's also something poignant in the vulnerability he occasionally reveals to his young assistant; they’re attracted to each other, but this is one area Della Pietra seems to have gauged as too dangerous to tap. Nevertheless, their intimacy grows even in a cloud of hangovers, freshly mixed drinks, and the ever present drugs. At one point, Alley muses that Walker can’t give up his wildly indulgent lifestyle because it’s too much a part of his public identity. It's simply sad, though, that a writer of Walker's caliber thinks the main thing he has to contribute to American letters is being constantly wasted.

A novel that shows our nation's path from refreshing nonconformity to end-times careerism.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5011-0014-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: April 21, 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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