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The author’s first collection of shorter fiction in more than a decade underscores his reputation as a contemporary master.

A superbly crafted and deeply moving collection of fiction, with a provocative back story.

The Irish-born, New York–based McCann (who won the 2009 National Book Award for Let the Great World Spin) here offers four pieces of fiction that focus on the process of writing and the interplay between art and its inspiration. As he writes in a concluding Author’s Note, "Every word we write is autobiographical, perhaps most especially when we attempt to avoid the autobiographical. For all its imagined moments, literature works in unimaginable ways.” He provides literary framing with the title, evoking the oft-cited Wallace Stevens poem. As for autobiography: the title novella's multilayered narrative evokes an incident that—amazingly—happened to McCann after he wrote the story, in which he was cold-cocked on the sidewalk by a stranger in a seemingly senseless attack. The story’s protagonist is an aged judge of failing body but nimble mind who has just had dinner with his boorish son when he’s assaulted on the street. The story is told in the third person, but most of it hews closely to the judge's point of view. As he ponders his mortality, he muses, “Give life long enough and it will solve all your problems, even the problem of being alive.” Other perspectives come from a series of seemingly omnipresent security cameras—in the judge's apartment, in the public areas of his Upper East Side building, and in the restaurant where he has dinner with his son; their images are investigated after the attack by detectives whose work McCann compares with literary critics interpreting a poem. The three other stories are shorter, often involving a crime or a loss or a threat of some sort, with the writer’s presence most evident in “What Time Is It Now, Where Are You?,” which begins, “He had agreed in spring to write a short story for the New Year’s Eve edition of a newspaper magazine,” and then proceeds through possible variations of that story. “Sh’khol” explores similarities between a story the protagonist has translated and a possible tragedy she's facing. The closing “Treaty” has an activist nun of advanced years and unreliable memory disturbed by images of a man who brutalized her almost four decades earlier.

The author’s first collection of shorter fiction in more than a decade underscores his reputation as a contemporary master.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9672-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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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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