Exhaustive and exhausting, the novel only sporadically comes together to present something like a vision, but in the ruin of...


White (We, Robots: Staying Human in the Age of Big Data, 2015, etc.) merges the social satire of his fiction with his nonfiction’s interest in identity in the age of data totality.

In the city of N____ somewhere in central Illinois, a masked and leather-panted stranger named Percy has shown up at the door with a message to deliver to the Marquis, a hashish smoking “Halo” addict whose estate has fallen on hard times. Percy is a creature of the Queen of Spells—a sort of Morgan le Fey–esque fairy godmother from the Outer Hebrides—whose essential innocence is the result of his having originated as only so much “flabby cack,” to which he is probably destined to return. Meanwhile, his message—a request to enroll him in the local community college—is fatefully mismanaged, and Percy is lost among the sycophant sex predators, patricides, tattooed gym gods, and porn-faced burnouts that make up White’s bleak idea of 21st-century America. From this early point, the novel particulates into a swirl of styles, indulgences, and high-profile interruptions from the author himself. White’s latest exploration of the satire of social dysfunction is endlessly inventive and endlessly imitative—cribbing forms from such diverse masters as E.T.A. Hoffman, Jonathan Swift, Flann O’Brien, and many more. With nods to the pantheon of avant-garde cultists within whose milieu White swirls (David Foster Wallace, Paul Auster, Martin Amis, and Don DeLillo all come immediately to mind), the novel bills itself equally as a bomb tossed into the bunker of literary convention; an algorithm endlessly replicating the capitalist apocalypse; a picaresque through which White’s mad characters tilt at real giants disguised as miniature-golf windmills. The result is a profane wrestling match between high style and low comedy which owes as much to Rocky and Bullwinkle as it does to Gauguin’s Vision After the Sermon, though, like both, it requires a willing audience to witness its exertions.

Exhaustive and exhausting, the novel only sporadically comes together to present something like a vision, but in the ruin of its parts, some runic message might be scrawled. Or, then again, it might not.

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61219-678-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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