Cynical and funny: a yarn worthy of a place alongside Cortázar and Donoso.

“He was swollen, deformed, nibbled by fish.” And that’s one of the luckier residents of Argentine novelist Saccomanno’s infernal seaside-resort city, where not much good ever happens.

A Gesell dome is a one-way mirror that allows researchers to observe subjects without their being aware of it. So it is with this omnisciently noirish novel, which allows readers to hover over Villa Gesell in the off-season and see the odd doings of the year-round inhabitants. The resort (an actual place), the translator tells us in a helpful introduction, was named after another Gesell, the descendant of German immigrants, but no matter: all kinds of people end up in the beach town for the same sorts of exigencies and accidental reasons as the Europeans who have landed on the Rio de la Plata for the past half-millennium, among them an escapee from the military terror of the 1970s whose daughter, after affairs with drug dealers and sessions in rehab, pleads for her own daughter to find a place in the relative safety of Villa Gesell. “Trabuco kept a jealous eye on her,” the narrator tells us, making revelations in fits and starts, “told her that a sinner never gets rid of the vice in her soul and that the Lord must have had some reason for infecting her, because let’s not forget that Vicky has AIDS.” Vicky isn’t the only denizen of the city who’s sick, and everyone seems altogether grumpy, perhaps because, under the orderly surface, the whole place is tainted with graft, corruption, and nepotism, all of which run through the city like the sewer line that, the narrator assures us, will never be built, “streets and boulevards gutted with no signs of a single pipe.” Moving from character to character, Saccomanno writes with dark lyricism of the shady dealmakers, old-school Nazis, youngsters “with their hormones raging,” prostitutes, and other types whom you might expect to find in a grim place and a grim time.

Cynical and funny: a yarn worthy of a place alongside Cortázar and Donoso.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-940953-38-0

Page Count: 616

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016



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



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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