by Christopher Beha ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 5, 2020
An admirably big-picture, multivalent family saga.
An affluent New York family is flung into a tailspin in 2009 in the third novel by Beha (Arts and Entertainments, 2014, etc.).
Beha is the editor of Harper’s, and this story evokes the spirit of two famous essays the magazine published championing the social novel: Tom Wolfe’s “Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast” and Jonathan Franzen’s “Why Bother?” Its young hero, Sam, has arrived from Wisconsin to write about the intersection of hard data and news for a storied publication. The job introduces him to the Doyle family, whose patriarch, Frank, is a longtime baseball writer and political pundit who recently disgraced himself making racist comments about Barack Obama on air at a Mets game. Doyle’s wife, Kit, is an investment banker pummeled by the Great Recession; their son, Eddie, is an Iraq War vet who’s overly enchanted with a street preacher, and their daughter, Margo, is making little progress on her dissertation on Wordsworth. The Doyles give Beha ample opportunity to expound on media, sports, religion, war, finance, and the arts; Justin, a Black hedge fund manager noblesse-obliged by the Doyles, is a pathway to riff on race while Sam’s wife, Lucy, lets him explore marriage. The novel can feel a tick too orderly, as Beha carefully maintains his large cast and big themes. But each character is engaging and full-blooded, and Beha pushes them hard: He’s concerned with how irrationality worms its way into everybody’s lives (via infidelity, faith, insider trading, plagiarism, addiction) and how that irrationality can undermine us and push us closer to understanding ourselves. “We hated nothing more than indisputable evidence, because we wanted to dispute,” Beha writes. And though the novel’s tone is more intellectual than what Wolfe and Franzen prescribed, its breadth, ambition, and command are refreshing.An admirably big-picture, multivalent family saga.
Pub Date: May 5, 2020
Page Count: 528
Publisher: Tin House
Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020
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by Mark Z. Danielewski ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 6, 2000
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
Page Count: 704
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000
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by Lisa Jewell ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 24, 2018
Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.
Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.
Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.
Pub Date: April 24, 2018
Page Count: 368
Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018
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