A coming-of-age story set largely in the surreal desert-world of Phoenix.

In this atmospheric debut, protagonist Ahlam’s identity crisis is clear from the start—she’s the daughter of an Israeli woman and a Palestinian refugee; a high school misfit; a dreamer of strangely prophetic fever dreams. So when she meets Laura, a musician and rebel who seems to exist outside their school’s social structure, it isn’t surprising that the two find solace in each other. Ahlam and Laura fall into a close friendship, confiding in one another about their broken home lives; discovering drugs and sex; and meeting the enigmatic Dylan, an older artist from New York City. Meanwhile, strange things are happening in the desert: mysterious blue lights occasionally appear across the nighttime sky, spotted by some, including Ahlam’s father, and an unexplained series of deaths and suicides spreads through the high school. Fearing they might be next and haunted by the desert’s (and their own) secrets, Ahlam and Laura follow Dylan to New York to pursue their dreams—Ahlam to become a dancer, Laura to make music—but, drunk on the city’s intensity and Dylan’s drug-fueled lifestyle, their lives quickly begin to spin out of control. Though its New York portions can sometimes seem unfocused, the novel provides a lyrical meditation on the confusion and awe of growing up that is made beautifully strange by the desert’s haunting presence. Ahlam’s feelings of isolation and inability to fit in—particularly when she’s with the magnetic, confident, but flawed Laura—are also rendered in a way that’s both typical and painfully, relatably fresh. But Assadi shines most in developing the intense, almost destructive bond between the two girls that forms the emotional nucleus of the book. Muses Ahlam, “I…felt her in the way that I moved, how over the years I came to light my cigarettes just like her, between ring and middle fingers, how I laughed or how my cash was always stuffed and disorganized in my wallet, just like hers…I had brought her into my skin. I dreamed sometimes that in the mirror was her face reflected back at me. Still, I don’t know where she ended and I began.”

Lyrical, raw, and moving.

Pub Date: March 23, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61695-792-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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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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