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A CONTRIVED WORLD

A contrived world? A contrived book, though, if such a thing is wanted, an inducement to torpor and despair.

Does Korean literature have a slacker-novel genre? If so, here’s its archetype.

The protagonist of novelist/translator Jung’s (Most Ambiguous Sunday and Other Stories, 2013, etc.) slender yarn is a man of thought. Much thought. Too much thought. When he travels from Korea to find his girlfriend living with a Mexican man in Los Angeles, he finds himself pondering the interloper’s tattoo, then his rightness for a part in “a dull western movie in which a great many people are shot to death,” then his “very large black penis.” Never mind the discordant ethnicity, for our narrator is now off to thinking about lying in bed with his erstwhile girlfriend, “holding her nipple in my mouth without sucking on it or thinking about sucking on it.” Evidently exhausted by his mental efforts, he takes his time doing much of anything: a week drinking tequila here, a few days of gazing down at a vacant lot from the top of a scrubby hill there. Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man is already looking like Jackie Chan compared to this fellow by the time an odd habit of his begins to become painfully evident, namely a bizarre hyperattention to every scrap of data that passes by his eye or through his thoughts, so that Jung (for this is a conscious choice on the writer’s part, after all) spends hundreds of words having him wonder whether the catfish he’s ordered in Chinatown—at least he’s managed to move a few hundred miles north to San Francisco—was raised in Vietnam or the “Mississippi River Valley,” wherever that might be. By the time he gets to pondering the local fauna, the reader may be inclined to move a few hundred miles away, too: “Somewhere else in this world there might be a park with more moles, but I could not imagine a park with more moles than Golden Gate Park, which made the park seem to belong to the moles.”

A contrived world? A contrived book, though, if such a thing is wanted, an inducement to torpor and despair.

Pub Date: April 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-56478-955-6

Page Count: 163

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016

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THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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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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