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THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS

Joyfully evoked with period details and pop-culture references, 1980s nostalgia is the only excuse for marketing this book...

In a small town in North Jersey in the late 1980s, a 14-year-old boy and his Commodore 64 find love and trouble.

It all starts with the Vanna White issue of Playboy, which in the era of Tipper Gore and Jerry Falwell, “no shopkeeper in America was going to sell…to a fourteen-year-old boy.” But Billy Marvin and his two best friends, Alf (looks just like the alien Alf on TV) and Clark (incredibly handsome but with a congenitally deformed left hand), sure as hell won’t let that stop them. These are boys who have rented Kramer vs. Kramer from the video store more than a dozen times solely to fast-forward to the “fifty-three seconds of jaw-dropping full-frontal nudity” when Dustin Hoffman’s hot one-night stand gets out of bed to use the bathroom. (It’s the very best PG-13 has to offer.) The only place in town that sells Playboy is Zelinsky’s Typewriters and Office Supplies, located in the small, dying downtown. During their first attempt to get the magazine—they dress in suits and try to pass for businessmen—Billy meets Mary Zelinsky, a “fat girl” who is as obsessed with computer programming as he is. She is far more advanced. His biggest achievement so far is a game called Strip Poker with Christie Brinkley (Christie is formed from slashes, parentheses, and other symbols) while Mary has digitized the music of Phil Collins. Together, they develop a game called The Impossible Fortress to enter in a contest for young programmers. Working beside Mary is for Billy like “finger painting next to Pablo Picasso.” But while he is falling in love, Clark and Alf have developed a much more complicated and dangerous scheme for liberating the Playboy magazines. Unfortunately, the criminal caper and the big reveal that follows it aren’t believable.

Joyfully evoked with period details and pop-culture references, 1980s nostalgia is the only excuse for marketing this book to adults; otherwise, Rekulak’s debut is a middle-grade novel all the way. A good one!

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-4441-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

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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OF MICE AND MEN

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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