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YOUR DUCK IS MY DUCK

These brilliant stories invoke the desire for something other than what you've been given, which applies to us as much as to...

A vivid mix of stories that pick up and expand on Eisenberg's (The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg, 2010, etc.) signature concerns.

Eisenberg is among our most interesting writers of short fiction, author of four previous collections that track the dislocation of her characters in ways both large and small. Of the six pieces in this, her first book in 12 years, five appeared in venues such as the Paris Review and the New York Review of Books; one garnered an O. Henry Award. It’s not hard to understand why. Eisenberg’s métier is reticence: Her characters move through a world they find bewildering, with no easy strategy to reach out and connect. In the title story, an artist finds herself at the beach home of a rich couple, in a country that could be Mexico. What looks like paradise, however, is an illusion, a landscape on the verge of chaos from overlapping cycles of drought and flooding and the excesses of the expatriate economy. “So naturally,” Eisenberg writes, “local people who could leave were leaving, and a lot of the foreigners…who had places in the area were pulling up stakes, too.” Place, in other words, exerts a very shallow pull. The same is true of family, which echoes here like a set of lost opportunities, more obligatory than consoling. “Merge” revolves, in part, around the son of a corrupt CEO who liberates himself from his father by forging a $10,000 check. “Cross Off and Move On” looks back at its narrator’s three aunts, although, she acknowledges, “They come to mind not so often. They come to mind only as often as does my mother, whose rancor toward them, my father’s sisters, imbued them with a certain luster and has linked them to her permanently.” Here, we see Eisenberg’s approach to narrative, which is to tell us something both incidental and important and then follow it where it goes. The stories here are long, most more than 30 pages, and they take their time in getting to the point. But that’s OK; in fact, it’s the whole pleasure of reading her, the assurance that there is no quick fix, no easy resolution, that things are as muddy, as complicated on the page as they are in the world. What is never muddy, though, is her writing, which is sharp and pointed and direct. “In our small city,” she writes, “where darkness and cold go on and on and most things smell and taste like lint, I groan with longing.”

These brilliant stories invoke the desire for something other than what you've been given, which applies to us as much as to Eisenberg's characters, whose distracted desperation can’t help, in the end, but reflect our own.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-268877-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD

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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HOUSE OF LEAVES

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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