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DEMON BOX

An elegiac semi-fiction composed of short takes and longer reprints from Rolling Stone, Esquire and Kesey's own magazine, Spit in the Ocean, now orchestrated into a large work whose parts sing against each other and whose overriding theme is a magnificent dirge for the 60's. Demon Box is also a superb rounding out and bookend to all the works springing from Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957). What Kerouac began Kesey has finished—and finished with great style and feeling. There are two or three Ken Keseys: the one who wrote two inspired novels (1962's marvelous One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest and 1964's more daring Sometimes a Great Notion), and the one who shifted from literature to life and became a retired novelist/Oregon farmer. There is also the public Kesey, father of the Merry Pranksters, a celebrated bus-load of psychedelic rebels set on bringing America into the fourth dimension of lysergic acid, whose antics were chronicled in the pop-art prose of Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It's the public Kesey we first meet here, being released from the San Marco (Cal.) County slammer after serving a six-month term for possession and cultivation of weed. This Kesey still has a prankster's aura, but that soon sours and fades, along with the famed psychedelic bus rotting on his farm. Here, Devlin E. Deboree, Kesey's alter ego, seems somewhere between a squire and a farmer. Like Henry Miller, to whom Demon Box owes a large debt, he spends a lot of time fending off unwanted hippie visitors who regard him as a national monument to unfettered freedom. Most of these rancid travelers come away unhappy with their encounter, seeing their man as a power tripper and guru gone rotten. Says one poisonous dropout, "I never read Sometimes a Cuckoo Nest but I saw the flick." Part of the time Deboree is away, on a trip to Mexico, or on a writing jaunt for Rolling Stone, searching for the riddle of the pyramids in Cairo, of marathon running to the Great Wall of China, or of madness at a psychiatrists' convention in Disney World. A highlight, however, is Kesey's great prose poem to the lost faces of the 60's ("Hello faces. Come back. Come on back all of you even LBJ with your Texas cheeks eroded by compromises come back. Khrushchev, fearless beyond peasant ignorance, healthy beside Eisenhower, come back both of you. James Dean all picked apart and Tab Hunter all put together. Michael Rennie in your silver suit the day the earth stood still for peace, come back all of you. . .").

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1986

ISBN: 0140085300

Page Count: 412

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1986

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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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NORMAL PEOPLE

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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