Like Passion Play (1979), this enervating novel suggests that Kosinski has reached a creative dead end: recycling his familiar themes and situations, but without the stylish starkness or the sense of danger in his genuinely disturbing early work. And this time there are two alter-egos to embody Kosinski's artistic and sexual preoccupations instead of the usual one—both of them composers. Patrick Domostroy is a serious, once-famous music man suffering from "composer's block"; so now he plays for singers at "a pinball joint that tries to pass for a nightclub" in the Bronx—and, conforming to Kosinski cliche, he rejoices "at being able to follow his own ethical code of moral responsibility." (I.e., sex clubs like Plato's Retreat are okay.) But Domostroy's zonked-out life will change when sexy music-student/groupie Andrea moves in and persuades him to aid her in her obsessive quest: she yearns to uncover the real identity of "Goddard," the biggest recording star in rock history, whose face and name are a super-secret. Their plan? To send Goddard an incredibly smart, simpatico fan letter (and, later, nude pix of Andrea's torso) that will compel Goddard to track Andrea down. And, as it happens, Goddard reacts exactly as they hope and has little trouble tracking Andrea down because: a) Goddard, unbeknownst to the whole world, is really mild-mannered Jimmy Osten—the son of a respected classical-music-records executive (thus a Domostroy acquaintance); and b) Osten's black-pianist girlfriend Donna happens to be in Andrea's class at Juilliard. Soon, then, while the wearying coincidences pile up, the two couples cross paths, switching sexual partners (piano-bench copulation for Donna and Domostroy). And there's some final carnage when Andrea's secret motive for wanting to unmask Goddard is revealed. Still, as implausibly contrived as this feeble plot may be, it's the best thing about the novel, generating at least a speck of suspense and irony. Far worse are the lazy, pretentious textures which fill out the story: flashbacks through the characters' predictably kinky sex lives; Osten's and Domostroy's banal soul-searchings (lots of "innermost feelings," "innermost vortex of his psyche," and "true emotional destiny"); extraneous anecdotes (including a barely fictionalized retelling of the Jack Henry Abbott affair); self-indulgent material about record executives Goddard Lieberson and Boris Pregel, to whose memory the novel is dedicated; and the musical detailing, which, though hard-working, is stiffly unevocative. In short: Kosinski's weakest work yet, with some merchandisable sleaze and glitter here and there, but essentially as dreary as it is empty.

Pub Date: March 1, 1982

ISBN: 0802134823

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1982



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



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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