This true-life-inspired account of child abuse from a monstrous mother is well told but painful to read and premature in its...

In this slightly fictionalized memoir, a young girl suffers horrific abuse for years after being scapegoated by her disturbed mother.

When Tuesday is 8 years old, her mother undergoes a severe personality change after a frontal-lobe injury. One day she tells the girl she’s in big trouble (Mama won’t say why), so Tuesday must stand with her face against the wall, all day long, every day. Turning around warrants a beating. As time goes on, Tuesday’s punishments for the unsaid crime grow crueler and more bizarre. Soon she has to wear a mask because Mama is tired of looking at her ugly face. Mama forces her to drink curdled milk and eat leftover scraps from everyone else’s meals—gristle, half-chewed meat, soggy cereal. Tuesday must go to school without underpants, or go unwashed, or with ugly, ill- fitting clothes. Throughout the years of mistreatment, her father’s only intervention is to send Tuesday to her grandmother for the summer; the return of school means more beatings, humiliation, isolation and starvation. When Tuesday fights back, at 15, she’s finally sent to live with her aunt. Byrne (Flashes, 2011) conveys a horrifying story “inspired by true-life experience,” according to the jacket copy, and though it’s well-written, it’s also very hard to take because the prose so vividly and evocatively portrays suffering. Even mild examples retain the underlying horror of her situation, as when her starvation compels her to eat paper: Notebook pages are “sweet and starchy”; construction paper is too bitter and spongy; but she loves the school’s toilet paper—“Without any ink, dye, or glue, it tasted pure, and it had more of the woody, almost nut-like flavor I had grown to love.” Also hard to take is her father’s passiveness, partly because Byrne is too easy on him. He tells Tuesday that intervention “could break up the family” and Mama “wouldn’t be able to take care of herself … she can’t even write a check on her own.” After Daddy dies, Mama becomes a nurse and does just fine, but Byrne merely mentions the change. There’s a curious lack of the real anger—rage, even—that would be expected, and no mention of how Tuesday has (or hasn’t) worked through these experiences as an adult. It’s as if the reader is meant to supply those emotions for the writer. Also, the ending doesn’t quite ring true—unlike nearly all that has gone before.

This true-life-inspired account of child abuse from a monstrous mother is well told but painful to read and premature in its resolution.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1463690021

Page Count: 328

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2012



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



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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