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THE BOOK OF TEN NIGHTS AND A NIGHT

ELEVEN STORIES

Best for those who consider Barth an essential contemporary writer—whose numbers may be, well, “contracting.”

The storytelling urge, in old age and under duress, as seen in the veteran postmodernist’s latest collection.

The framework of these variously related tales consists of ongoing playfully erotic conversations (and conjoinings) shared by an aging writer (“Graybard”) and his lissome body-painted “Muse,” rather archly named WYSIWYG (meaning “What you see is what you get”). The setting is (Barth’s usual) Maryland’s Eastern shore, during the 11 days that follow the bombing of the World Trade Center. Graybard wonders whether stories still matter in a world so ruthlessly destructive. And WYSIWYG affably deconstructs and disses the “Hendecameron” (so named in homage to Boccaccio) he nevertheless assembles, rudely questioning his metafictional toying with variant versions of “a non-story that becomes a Story by acknowledging that it isn’t one.” Undeterred, Graybard offers “stories” about narrative possibility (inspired by a recovered wedding ring, the near-convergence of a cat struck and killed by a car and a missing autistic boy found in a remote marshland). Noodling about writers’ dreams (“A Detective and a Turtle”) and the notion that both the physical universe and human possibility are contracting (“The Big Shrink,” “Extension”) yield mixed results—as do “9999,” in which confluences of numbers have possibly “causative” characteristics, and “Click,” which laboriously riffs on contrasts and linkages between virtual and “real” reality. Barth (Coming Soon!!!, 2001, etc.) does better with a sly science-fiction premise in “The Rest of Your Life,” and a retired teacher’s intuition that the declining birth rate presages a rejection of human “continuity” in “And Then There’s the One.” But the volume relapses into coy self-reflexiveness, and the reader nods. Barth’s conviction that characters and plots, beginnings and endings aren’t stories’ central concerns becomes, once again, initially stimulating, increasingly puzzling, ultimately dissatisfying.

Best for those who consider Barth an essential contemporary writer—whose numbers may be, well, “contracting.”

Pub Date: April 9, 2004

ISBN: 0-618-40566-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2004

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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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