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TRYING TO SAVE PIGGY SNEED

An uneven miscellany of fiction, autobiography, and commentary from the author of, most recently, A Son of the Circus (1994). The title essay, about a retarded pigkeeper mocked and harassed by the young John Irving and his pals (in Exeter, New Hampshire, the author's hometown), is presented as a meditation on the writer's need to give his attention, and his heart, even to the unlikeliest of subjects. A long autobiographical sequence is brightly written and offers interesting details about Irving's youth and young writing life, but bogs down in redundant and tendentious accounts of his adventures as a wrestler, wrestling coach, and referee (an avocation that, Irving cheerfully concedes, he's taken beyond the point of obsession) and that rather flaunts a somewhat politicized remembrance of "My Dinner at the White House." A section of six short stories (all Irving has produced) includes some forgettable pieces (which their author has the good grace to dismiss as unimportant) from Playboy and Esquire, but also two of Irving's most skillful fictions: "The Pension Grillparzer," a witty tale of Americans in Europe that was first published as part of Garp, and "Interior Space," a complex portrayal of a young marriage endangered by pettiness and sheer foolishness, as well as mortality. A concluding trio of essays written in homage to writers Irving admires includes a pedestrian "Introduction to A Christmas Carol" (written for a Modern Library reprint) and a longer piece in praise of "The King of the Novel," which attractively (if unoriginally) acknowledges the deeply formative influence of Charles Dickens. The concluding essay, on Irving's friendship with G(infinity)nter Grass and the latter's embattled celebrity in his native Germany, is considerably more interesting. Irving is a heartfelt and headlong writer who doesn't spare the horses, or the fireworks. The many who cherish his energy and generosity as a novelist will find much here to whet their appetites for his next big tale.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1996

ISBN: 1-55970-323-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1995

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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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