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An engaging, character-driven tale set in South Korea.

A former record executive, a young administrator, and two American expatriates cross paths teaching English in South Korea in 2002.

In this novel, Zerndt (The Tree Poachers and Other Stories, 2016, etc.) switches among three narrators: Moon, who left a high-powered job in the music industry to deal with his alcoholism; Yun-ji, who works and goes to school, dreaming of opening her own internet cafe; and Billie, an American, who, along with her boyfriend, Joe, has come to South Korea to teach English in the school where Moon and Yun-ji work. The three interact frequently, but remain in their own worlds, never learning that although their backgrounds are different, they are united by ambivalent feelings about parenthood and a complicated relationship with alcohol. The main characters’ story arcs take place against a backdrop of tense relations between the United States and South Korea following the killing of two young girls by an American tank—Billie and Yun-ji become pregnant, Moon takes music lessons from Joe and develops a relationship with his toddler son, and Billie and Joe’s deceptions cause problems for their overseas adventure. The story is a quiet one, with most of the narrative taking place within the characters’ minds, but the interpersonal conflicts are sharply realized, driving the plot and bringing the narrative to life. The prose is mixed, sprinkled with clever turns of phrase (“She was a striking woman, though. And by ‘striking’ I mean she had the air of someone who might just hit you if you so much as looked at her the wrong way”) and burdened with choppy sentences and fragments (“Pusan National University. That was where Moon had met his wife. She’d been taking classes to be a nurse. The first time he saw her was at a bus stop”). But the characters are thoroughly engrossing—even self-centered Billie becomes sympathetic as she struggles to connect with a classroom of rambunctious children—and readers will likely keep turning pages to find out what happens in the book’s emotionally satisfying conclusion.

An engaging, character-driven tale set in South Korea.

Pub Date: Dec. 16, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4839-9747-6

Page Count: 276

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 26, 2018

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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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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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