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A debut collection of slice-of-life stories about run-of-the- mill Texans—cruising men with women on the brain, and bosomy women with men on the brain. Originally published in various Southwestern periodicals, the tales take place in a seemingly endless series of bars, pick-up trucks, motels, and trailers. A few of the final stories rise above the norm with wise, lyrical passages, and the voices of Watt's older male narrators have an honest sound. In ``The Man Who Talked to Houses,'' a retired condo salesman contemplating death confides, ``I talk to the houses, yellow skeletons in the night, waiting for tomorrow. I shake my head over shortcuts taken, encourage the slabs to hold, the frames to be patient, remind them of years still to come.'' In ``The Way Things Happen,'' an emotionally burned-out man in his middle years listens to his companion talk about the farm she has inherited, a place she knew as a child, while he thinks, ``I want to...tell her how things end up in certain ways, how things aren't always the way they look, don't stay the way you remember.'' But other pieces don't work on as deep a level, particularly when Watt attempts a female narrator's point of view. His women too often seem to be stereotypes drawn from a male perspective, as when the narrator of ``Ducks'' contemplates her breasts: ``She likes them. Big enough to be full and need good support, but not so big as to be show-offy.'' Here, as elsewhere, the author doesn't extend his imagination far enough to credibly evoke differing states of mind. Ordinary people don't have to be boring—look at Walter Mitty- -but unfortunately Watt's characters are.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 1994

ISBN: 0-87074-376-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Southern Methodist Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994

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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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