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ROUSE UP, O YOUNG MEN OF THE NEW AGE

Oe has been afflicted, and blessed, with a great theme that’s entirely his own—and has made it the cornerstone of an...

Perhaps the best of several fictionalizations of life with his brain-damaged son Hikari, this moving 1986 novel (previously untranslated into English) by Japan’s 1994 Nobel laureate ranks with such triumphs as Oe’s The Silent Cry (1975) and Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness (1969).

The narrator is K., a middle-aged Tokyo writer whose understandably obsessive relationship with his adult son, born with a deformed head and thereafter subject to both irrational borderline-violent behavior and terrifying seizures, dovetails in his imagination with the consolations and clarifications found in the poems and paintings of William Blake, which K. has devoutly studied since his youth. Each chapter here is prefaced by a quotation from or allusion to Blake’s enormously rich oeuvre, and K.’s often discursive ruminations make telling connections between Blake’s themes and preoccupations and emotions stirred by the strange boy-man whom his parents and younger siblings continue to call “Eeyore.” For example, the subject of Eeyore’s dreams evokes references to Blake’s poetical treatment of the phenomenon of dreaming and his dreamlike paintings; Eeyore’s experiences with occupational therapy are counterpointed to Blake’s interpretation of the US Declaration of Independence. There’s much more: Eeyore’s panicky fear of death leads to memories of K.’s vigil for a former school friend dying of leukemia; teaching his son to swim brings K. into contact with athletic young men reminiscent of the paramilitary acolytes of Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima (who committed ritual suicide); and, most intriguingly, Eeyore’s inexplicable musical gift (Oe’s son is, against enormous odds, a successful composer), one of whose by-products is a highly praised collaboration between father and son. The result is a dazzlingly unconventional fiction, alive on every page with deeply considered ideas and restrained emotion, that’s capable of frequently reducing the reader to helpless (albeit grateful) tears.

Oe has been afflicted, and blessed, with a great theme that’s entirely his own—and has made it the cornerstone of an irresistibly compelling body of work.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8021-1710-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2002

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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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