Rambling and obscure, this ultimately incoherent story never convinces you of the pertinence (much less importance) of the...

A virtually unreadable debut novella by O, The Oprah Magazine editor Raffel (short fiction: In the Year of Long Division, 1995).

The story is basically about an unhappy family: Elise (usually referred to as “the mother”) returns to the childhood home she had run away from years earlier with her lover (referred to as “the lover”). She returns without the lover, however, bringing instead her sickly son James (usually referred to as “the boy”), who is not in very good shape at all. Elise’s own mother (referred to as “Mother”) died some years before, and while her father (“the father”) is still alive, he doesn’t get around much anymore and the place is kind of a dump. Elise’s sister (always called “the aunt”) is still around, and she looks after the boy while Elise pokes around the house looking for something she seems to have left behind. The aunt is a drunk, and at night she settles down with her nipper of gin and tells the boy a meandering version of the “Three Little Pigs” that becomes stranger and more meandering each night. There are long descriptions of the house—a once very grand house, apparently, built by the father—that make it sound very ominous and creepy. There are also long stretches of pointless dialogue (“ ‘Please,’ said the child.” / “ ‘No,’ said the aunt.” / “ ‘Drink?’ said the child. ‘Some?’ ” / “ ‘Not for you,’ the aunt said” / “ ‘Want it,’ the child said.” / “ ‘This isn’t what you think it is.’ ” / “ ‘Juice?’ ” / “ ‘No juice,’ said the aunt. ‘This is gin’ ”) that sound like the cuttings from David Mamet’s floor, while the narration is sonorous and deliberately overwrought (“The place was not the aunt’s. Suppose, for the sake of argument, the place was the father’s”). The ending, which doesn’t really make clear what Elise was looking for or whether she makes peace with her family, doesn’t succeed in making much sense of the proceedings.

Rambling and obscure, this ultimately incoherent story never convinces you of the pertinence (much less importance) of the events it describes.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-7432-2863-4

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002



The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992



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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