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Local color. Good talk. Festive music. Disease." That's how a downtown bar is described in Don DeLillo's new novel; it also describes the novel, which, to an even greater degree than last year's Players, fails to hang together and therefore provides only fitful, disjointed satisfactions. Glen Selvy, trained-to-kill, works as special buyer for a U.S. Senator who collects erotic objets d'art as well as outright objets de porno. Glen really works for PAC/ORD, a government intelligence unit that has secretly gone into profitable private business in covert-operations-for-hire. The Senator has been investigating PAC/ORD, so Selvy needs to get dirt on the Senator-like his porno collection and especially his participation in the mad scramblae (involving the Mafia and a murder) for possession of a film supposedly showing orgies in Hitler's bunker. Also interested in this whole scene is Moll Robbins, an investigative reporter for semi-underground Running Dog magazine, and she and Glen have "dusky sex" (Glen breaks his rule against sex with unmarried women). If all this sounds confusing, you should know that DeLillo makes little effort to facilitate comprehension as he nixes and matches, in cinematic slow motion, imagined and realistic debasements of a society gone past all limits. Like, for instance, the "nude storyteller" (a momentarily hilarious idea) whom Selvy picks up in Times Square on his suicidal, running-dog, cross-country escape from his ruthless Intelligence masters. Or like the audience that disappointedly watches the Hitler home movies (not porno at all but grosser still: Hitler humanized) while Selvy self-destructs—a numbingly clumsy piece of paralleling. DeLillo is obviously working from a sincere sense of revulsion ("What happened to normal? Where is normal?" asks a boy-impresario of smut), but few readers will be able to do more than discern a vague outline of the author's attitude and respond to the few glimmers of a talent gone slack and self-defeatingly private.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 1978

ISBN: 0679722947

Page Count: 246

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1978

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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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