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A novel undone by Lee’s indecisiveness over how much slack to cut his protagonist, the obnoxious Joshua.

During college and afterwards, some aspiring Asian-American artists figure out their identities in this third novel from the former editor of Ploughshares (Wrack and Ruin, 2008, etc.). 

Eric Cho, the narrator, is a third generation Korean-American from California. In 1988 he arrives at Macalester, a small liberal arts college in St. Paul, Minn. Unformed and eager to please, he falls under the influence of Joshua Yoon, a Korean orphan adopted and raised lovingly by two Harvard professors, both Jews. While Joshua, a loudmouth and provocateur, complains about the pervasiveness of racism, Eric finds a willing girlfriend in Didi, a blonde Irish Catholic from Boston. When Didi ends the relationship, it’s an I-told-you moment for Joshua; obviously she had just been slumming. He presses his point home in a creative writing class (both he and Eric are would-be novelists) by savagely attacking a white girl’s story; she retaliates, leaving a racist slur outside his dorm. Eric draws closer to Joshua and Jessica, a Taiwanese-American art student; they style themselves the 3AC (Asian American Artists Collective). Eric also acknowledges that they are “insufferable twits.” After graduation, all three find themselves in Boston. They expand the Collective to include a range of avant-garde types intent on combating media stereotypes of Asians, but it never really gets off the ground; the group can’t even agree on a mission statement for the website. Joshua’s leadership has failed. Years later, after his suicide (Lee uses it as a hook for his opening), Eric concludes that “Joshua was a liar, a narcissist, a naysayer, a bully, and a misogynist.” Add to that list: a bore. Lee doesn’t persuade us that Joshua has the charisma necessary to keep Eric in thrall to him. In lieu of a plot, he gives Eric another doomed relationship, and then a controversy and media circus over a risqué installation of Jessica’s that celebrates the Asian phallus. 

A novel undone by Lee’s indecisiveness over how much slack to cut his protagonist, the obnoxious Joshua.

Pub Date: July 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-393-08321-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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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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