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A novel of sonorous character study, showing both the limits and allure of truly knowing another person—and oneself.

A woman’s amnesia strains her relationships with her husband and her best friend.

Married couple Claire and Charlie and their dearest friend, Rachel, have a long, complicated history and a friendship so close it's more like family. Rachel and Charlie met in a modernist poetry seminar when she was studying abroad in England. They had a shy but loving romance of their own, and he moved with her to Boston to go to graduate school, where together they met Claire. When Rachel’s parents died in a car accident, first Claire and then Charlie moved into her childhood home and took care of her through her intense grief. Claire has been leading the trio through their lives ever since. When Rachel became pregnant and decided against keeping it and against telling Charlie, Claire helped her through. When Rachel, in her sadness about this choice, turned away from Charlie, Claire took her place as his romantic partner. When Charlie got a job in Vermont, Claire moved with him, convincing them both that it would work. But now it's Claire who needs to be led. A traveling journalist working on a story in India, she has been away from Vermont and from Charlie for some time, literally and emotionally, when she's bitten by a mosquito and contracts Japanese encephalitis, leading to seizures and brain damage: “There is a smudge where [her] memories are supposed to be.” She is unstable, unwell, unable to remember her life from her late teens through her most recent writing assignments, knowing only that she awoke alone in a hospital in Florida. Occasionally a floating memory comes forth—of a moment in the shared kitchen of their youth or, more recently, of a mysterious photographer named Michael—but mostly Claire is at a loss. She hates it, a normally independent and fearless woman trapped by her health—and her husband hates it, too, as the dynamics of their relationship lurch dramatically away from the usual. Over the course of the novel, told through the friends' three alternating points of view, shared and unshared memories are revealed as Charlie and Rachel care for Claire and as Claire works to put it all back together. Each has secrets, and secreted resentments, of which Luloff’s (The Beach at Galle Road, 2012) slow unearthing is fascinating and thorough.

A novel of sonorous character study, showing both the limits and allure of truly knowing another person—and oneself.

Pub Date: June 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-56512-922-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 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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