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Pretentious, overtold, and transparent—Joy mistakes literary allusion for literary merit.

A fatal hunting accident and its coverup prompt this tale of violence and revenge in the mountains of western North Carolina.

When Darl Moody, who’s poaching out-of-season deer, accidentally kills Carol “Sissy” Brewer, who’s poaching someone else’s ginseng, he knows he’s got a problem: namely Sissy’s brother, Dwayne Brewer, who steals chainsaws for a living, pulls guns on bullies in Walmart bathrooms, and spends his spare time “fieldstripping and reassembling his Colt 1911 as fast as he [can] with his eyes closed.” Darl knows Dwayne isn’t the kind of guy who'd say, “Hey man, I know you killed my brother and all, hard feelings,” so he decides to bury Sissy, and he gets his friend Calvin Hooper to help. Unfortunately, they leave a breadcrumb trail, and Dwayne, whose love for Sissy was “the deepest…he’d ever known," follows it, bent on revenge. Joy’s (The Weight of This World, 2017, etc.) third novel is a fast-paced, tightly plotted thriller that falls short of its literary pretensions—in fact, it's more pretension than anything else. Dwayne, misunderstood “trash” who loves his brother and can quote the Bible, has been explicitly compared to the Misfit in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” Anton Chigurh of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, Judge Holden of McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, and Lester Ballard of McCarthy’s Child of God. But where these prophetic villains are classically inscrutable, Dwayne—like the rest of Joy’s novel—is the opposite. There is no human mystery. Every action, thought, and motivation is explained. To be fair, there are some competent fight scenes. And Sissy’s decomposing body is nicely visceral. And in between the melodrama and cliché, Joy does manage a few inspired local details: “as each addition rotted away, a new one was hammered together…so that slowly, through decades, the five-room shanty shifted around the property.” But for the most part this book is a sculpture of lazy sentences (“The place where he could take no more had come and gone in the blink of an eye and now here he sat little more than a husk of what he was a week before”) and prepackaged profundity (“mothers should not bury their children”).

Pretentious, overtold, and transparent—Joy mistakes literary allusion for literary merit.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-57422-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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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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Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed.

This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel." It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define.  Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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