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WIT’S END

Fowler’s clever insights eventually sink in as more profound than they initially seemed.

A prickly, computer-age take on the mystery genre, from Fowler (The Jane Austen Book Club, 2004, etc.).

Twenty-nine-year-old Ohio schoolteacher Rima Lanisell comes to Santa Cruz, Calif., to stay with her godmother Addison Early. The famous author of a mystery series featuring detective Maxwell Lane, Addison is an eccentric who creates a dollhouse miniature of her crime scene before actually writing each novel. Rima is curious about Addison’s relationship and eventual falling out with Rima’s recently deceased father, a well-respected journalist whose name Addison used for the wife-murderer in one of her novels. Shortly after Rima’s arrival at Addison’s house, a wayward fan steals a miniature body from one of the dollhouses. While Rima becomes obsessed with hunting down the perpetrator, that theft seems as close to scary crime as the novel is going to get. Although Rima is mourning not only her father’s but also her adored, risk-taking only brother’s death, the tone remains light and mocking (and predictably, though jarringly, hostile to the Bush administration). Addison’s household includes a cast of gently comical updated gothic stereotypes, including a housekeeper with a shady past, her alienated son and a blogging dog-walker who informs Rima that Addison and Maxwell Lane are popular topics online. Logging on, Rima soon finds the distinction between fact and fiction blurring in regard to her father, Addison and even herself. Along the way she finds a stash of fan letters sent to Maxwell. She writes back to one in Maxwell's name. She also begins wondering how her father knew the letter writer, once a member of a local right-wing religious cult. Only astute readers will wade through the sometimes annoying barrage of disjointed, quirky twists to find the hints planted that there may once have been a real murder involving the cult, and that Rima’s father may have been involved.

Fowler’s clever insights eventually sink in as more profound than they initially seemed.

Pub Date: April 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-399-15475-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Marian Wood/Putnam

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2008

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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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