Brosky’s darkly witty stories describe the major and mundane problems facing ordinary Midwesterners.

The young and youngish, mostly male, characters in Brosky’s stories find their personal, self-devised method for dealing with the world challenged by what life throws their way. The protagonist of “Deer Tales” impulsively stakes a major decision—whether to move back to his hometown or stay in the city and pursue a career as an artist—on his success at playing a deer-hunting video game in the lobby bar of a Holiday Inn, only to find that he’s terrible at it. The phone hacker in “The Phreaks” wins a hacking challenge by whistling payphone tones to trick the computer system—“Nines was in his own world, with his eyes closed, running his fingers along every naked space of Ma Bell’s back, treating her the way a really good guy does to a woman he knows he doesn’t deserve”—only to see a lesser hacker make off with the girl he likes due to superior social skills. In the best stories, Brosky exploits this disconnect with a sharp eye for detail and a fine sense of absurdity that’s both darkly funny and subtly tragic, as when one of the Four Horsemen pulls up to a Wisconsin coffee bar for a double shot of espresso in “Apocolypse Wow!” The preconceptions the story’s characters have about the End Times, whether credulous or skeptical, fail to prepare them for the grimly underwhelming, almost bureaucratic nature of the disaster they face. The polite, apologetic Horseman doesn’t have many answers to give the anxious baristas, just weary resignation, a presence that wilts vegetation and a golden scale he has no idea what to do with. Occasionally, Brosky’s satirical style gets the better of his storytelling, leading to flat characters like the cartoonishly oblivious Christian aid worker in Darfur, dropped into the middle of a realistically brutal view of the crisis there in “On the Tenth Day I Kept It Down.” More often, though, he gets the balance right. These stories about often-overlooked characters find sharp observations on the indignities of modern life.


Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2011

ISBN: 978-1467974370

Page Count: 138

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2012

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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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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