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JACK HOLMES AND HIS FRIEND

One of the best novelists at work today, White spins an entangling—and thoroughly entertaining—yarn.

Top-flight novelist White (City Boy, 2009, etc.) returns with a bittersweet story of the love that dared not speak its name until about the winter of 1963.

The chronology is a little fuzzy, but the author situates the opening of his latest novel safely in the cozy prep-school world of the late 1950s. Jack Holmes is a glorious son of a Rust Belt then brilliantly agleam, tall and blonde and “with stomach muscles as hard as a turtle’s shell,” popular with everyone. It would be easy for him to coast, to live a superficial life, but Jack is a person of depth and complexity. So we learn when, after college, our Gatsby makes his way east and pitches his tent among the bohemians of Greenwich Village. His intelligence soon land him on the staff of a high-culture magazine where, “over-caffeinated, overdressed, and under-instructed,” he wrangles with an editor who’s smarter than Susan Sontag and more frustrated than Portnoy. At the same time, he enjoys an increasingly catholic diet of friends and bedmates, including, eventually, a promising young novelist named Will Wright—the name is suggestive—who emerges, over the chapters and decades, as Jack’s soul mate. This is not all to the good, for White’s story takes in not just the time of innocence and Camelot, but also the very first inklings of the “gay plague” that was first known as GRID, later as AIDS; Will’s final dedication to Jack reads, “Our libertine days are over.” So they are. White’s book embraces a classic love story, but it is much more: It offers something of a cultural history of gay life in New York in the closeted era before Stonewall. In the sometimes facetious, sometimes mutually uncomprehending, sometimes blazingly intelligent interplay of people of all sorts of orientations, gay and straight and in between, and all sorts of backgrounds and nationalities, White’s narrative is sometimes reminiscent of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin stories—which is no small praise. But White’s chief characters are all-American types, which one supposes is the point: Though Jack’s psychiatrist may scold him for “acting out,” and though they were subject to criminal prosecution in their day, his desires and passions are utterly normal. White’s writing, of course, is not.

One of the best novelists at work today, White spins an entangling—and thoroughly entertaining—yarn.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-60819-703-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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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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THE SECRET HISTORY

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

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