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An unsettling juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness.

A Dutch sculptor reminisces about the love of his life in this new translation of a 1969 novel.

In the tradition of Nabokov’s Lolita or Breton’s Nadja, Wolkers’ novel tells the story of a man whose obsession with a woman consumes him. In this case, the woman is Olga, whom the artist meets when she picks him up hitchhiking. When the novel begins, their relationship is already over. We start with a portrait of the artist in his studio, masturbating to her memory and tormenting the American coeds who rent rooms from him. Interweaving vignettes of the love affair with its aftermath, in which Olga reappears and disappears at intervals, the artist must come to terms with what it's like to live and make art under the powerful spell of memory. Although the novel must have been a great deal of fun to translate—Garrett brings its lyricism to life as well as its sexuality and scatology—it makes for a disturbing read. In 1969, it may have been brave or even revolutionary for a male protagonist to admit his most erotic or disgusting thoughts or allow himself cleareyed moments of self-awareness. But at a time when the phrase “toxic masculinity” is in common parlance, it’s extra painful to see Olga (whom the artist calls his “sweet, red animal”) alternately brutalized and idealized by a narrator whose honesty, at least, seems meant to be admired. For all that, Wolkers is a lovely stylist, and the images of the memories that obsess the artist here—like Olga throwing her old dolls over a bridge into the water—don’t erase the bad taste of Olga’s powerlessness but do introduce some surprising notes of sweetness.

An unsettling juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-941040-47-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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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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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