Spare, matter-of-fact and masterfully controlled, this is a novel as noteworthy for what it leaves out—politics, purpose for...


Four young soldiers find comfort and a sense of belonging with each other that at least one of them has never experienced before.

French novelist Mingarelli (A Meal in Winter, 2016, etc.) focuses tightly on a winter in 1919 when the Red Army is encamped near a forest while awaiting the spring that will surely bring the battalion’s movement and the resumption of violence within the Russian civil war. The first-person narrator is named Benia, though the reader doesn’t learn this until almost a third of the way through the novel, within the dialogue he recounts. The first chapter shows how quickly, coincidentally, and almost accidentally he bonded first with another young soldier, then another, and then with a fourth they recruited. “I thought to myself: That’s it, I’m not alone in the world any more,” he says. “And I was right.” The reader learns little about Benia, perhaps because Benia doesn’t think there is much worth knowing. He's an orphan who had little sense of connection or purpose before joining the army and being sent to the Romanian front. There, he meets Pavel, another young soldier, who changes Benia's life when he says, “Let’s stay together.” The narrator intuits that Pavel is smarter, more experienced, and more of a leader, a contrast underlined when Pavel subsequently befriends the larger and more impulsive Kyabine, who will do the heavy lifting for the group, and the more compassionate and intuitive Sifra, who says little and reveals less of himself than the others. Though the winter is harsh, its interlude is almost idyllic, at least in terms of what the four men know is coming—the endless march toward violence. They find a pond that they keep secret from the others. They pass around a watch that has a woman’s face, which they consider lucky. They play dice games, gamble with cigarettes, share meager rations. They are joined by another, whose intrusion changes the dynamic. And then they are ordered to move, and Pavel insists, “Where we’re going there won’t be any good moments, because all that is behind us now.” And he is right, as the foursome’s bond cannot survive.

Spare, matter-of-fact and masterfully controlled, this is a novel as noteworthy for what it leaves out—politics, purpose for fighting, anything that reflects on the world at large—as for what it includes.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62097-440-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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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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