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Once again Vonnegut throws up his hands at the human race, condemning it for its overweening technology, war-making, greed and other perversities. And yet, underneath, he still seems to like people, so his solution in this quasi-science-fiction novel is to "evolve" humanity for another million years until it becomes unift for mischief—in fact, fit for little else but catching fish. In this prickly and only occasionally funny ramble, that represents progress. The narrator is a ghost in this death-haunted tale, a disillusioned Vietnam vet who happens to be the son of Vonnegut's Kilgore Trout. He watches as an odd lot of damaged people assemble in 1986 in an Ecuadorean port to join "the nature cruise of the century" to Galapagos, volcanic islands made famous by Darwin's visit. The world is in the throes of an economic crisis, Ecuadoreans are starving, war and all hell break out—and the little band of misfits, reduced in number but augmented by some cannibal girls, set out to sea for refuge. It is they who become the ancestors of the future human race because the rest of the world becomes sterile and dies out. Vonnegut has his followers who like big issues treated in so jaunty a fashion. His voice is good, clear middle. American, and he doesn't beat about the bush. One of his devices is to put an asterisk by the name of a character who is about to die. There is a subtext to this story: an attempt to deal with disease and death by mocking them. Vonnegut is whistling in the dark, and it's a thin, jumpy little tune despite his feats of imagination. But his dark is real enough.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 1985

ISBN: 0385333870

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1985

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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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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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