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THE JUDGES

Human, unpretentious, compelling explorations of what we are, and why.

From the prolific Nobelist, a novel rather artificially constructed—but for the worthy purpose of looking inside to find what meaning life can hold for any of us.

An airliner en route to Israel is forced down at a small airport on the blizzard-swept east coast, where the “survivors” are picked up by locals and given shelter until as the plane can take off again. Five of them are so unlucky as to be escorted home by a very strange man indeed, who puts them—imprisons them—in a sealed room, announces himself a “judge,” and declares his intent to play “games” with what’s most precious to them, “the power of their imagination.” As the “games” grow increasingly sinister—the judge at first insists only that each reveal something personal, but before the long night is over he’ll demand that one be chosen as an assassination victim—the travelers, increasingly frightened, become also increasingly introspective, so that we learn more and more about each of their lives. There is Claudia, a theater producer and director; Bruce Schwarz, an aging roué; Yoav, an Israeli soldier with a secret deadly disease; George Kirsten, a scholarly archivist; and, most central, Razziel Friedman, head of a Talmudic school in Brooklyn. As the life of each is revealed, so is the reason each has for continuing to live: a love affair, a historically important paper to deliver, or, as in Razziel’s case, an appointment with a mysterious figure who is to restore to him the memory of his life before age 18, lost in the ruinous trauma of his having been a political prisoner. There will be moments of memory, kindness, breakdown, pensiveness, and terror before an ending that (engineered by the judge’s hunchback “servant”) will seem convincing perhaps to few. But no matter. Wiesel, by then, will have entered the hearts, rewardingly, both of his characters and of his readers.

Human, unpretentious, compelling explorations of what we are, and why.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-40909-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2002

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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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OF MICE AND MEN

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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