A shambolic sort-of crime novel that flirts with absurdity but never finds its footing.


A young Mauritian immigrant attempts to dissect her father’s criminal past.

This debut novel by Ah-Sen, a Toronto writer who comes from a family of Mauritian winemakers, may tell an interesting tale, but the actual storytelling is so messy and unfocused that the style is distracting. We hear the story of Sergent Mayacou, a member of a secretive street gang called the Sous, through the eyes of his daughter between the years 1965 and 1980. Sergent is known by his cronies as “The Grand Menteur,” a designation which translates to “big liar,” while his comrades carry colorful nicknames like the Black Derwish, Ti Pourri, and Bowling Green. When a policeman friend of Sergent’s gives the daughter a codex laying out the mysterious workings of the Sous Gang, it gives her some insight into the nature of her painfully secretive father and her own tendencies toward crime and violence. Unfortunately, that revelation doesn’t do squat for the reader, since it’s never really revealed just what criminal activities this flamboyant band of misfits gets up to. The daughter ultimately ends up working at St. Alban’s, a homeless shelter in Toronto, where she seeks shelter for herself after years of grifting to get by. This tale is meant to shine a light on the unique plight of a specific group of immigrants, but there’s nothing compelling in its telling. “Yet wherefore the enduring survival of our derelict people?” the narrator bemoans late in the tale. “To what grace the raw power of these schemers? Where else but the many children, siblings, acquaintances, comrades willing to abet the happiness of their devoteds, kith and kin who comprised the enablers, sympathizers and even enemies. All points of discourse intersecting into a lightning array of action and inertia.” The story told here is culturally interesting with its melting pot of Mauritian mythology, British class influences, and the awkwardness of being a stranger in a strange land. It's too bad the writing that propels it is as twisty and hard to unravel as a Gordian knot.

A shambolic sort-of crime novel that flirts with absurdity but never finds its footing.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-77166-130-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Bookthug

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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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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