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A curious subcultural tale that somewhat successfully rewrites familiar supernatural themes.

A group of roving suburban lycanthropes struggles to balance order with ferality in this chatty allegory.

The debut novel by Lynn (Theatre and Dance/Univ. of Texas at Austin) is told almost exclusively in dialogue, with the exception of a handful of first-person interludes. This can make it difficult to discern who’s talking to whom in the early pages, but the skeletal plot and declarative chapter titles (“Angel and Susan Make a Plan”) make things straightforward enough: a band of werewolves has been squatting in empty suburban homes, hunkering down long enough to gather food and supplies before police and neighbors get suspicious. Malcolm, the group’s ostensible alpha dog, prescribes careful consideration of the group’s every move, but his authority is challenged by Angel, who has more violent tendencies. Clawing, biting, and worse inevitably ensue, but by werewolf-tale standards, this one is deliberately low on snap and bite and bloodshed. Indeed, though some members of the pack are locked away when they go through a three-day “change,” it’s an open question how much they’re actually changing. The novel is more a study in power dynamics and how, ironically, even wild packs hunger for organization. The dialogue-heavy structure has limits, though. The struggle between Malcom and Angel is relatively inert, and the late chapters’ focus on an exiled member, Bobert, trying to return to the fold feels somewhat digressive. Lynn is strongest when he illuminates the urge to break free from convention in the face of threats. “We’re waking up that part of our brains…instead of waiting for the plague or whatever happens next in history,” one member says. The book is not quite Orwell, but it’s an offbeat glimpse into how resistance to conformity breeds its own kind of conformity. As one of the “rules” puts it, “Eventually everyone will be a werewolf.”

A curious subcultural tale that somewhat successfully rewrites familiar supernatural themes.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61219-476-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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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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The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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