Any one of these plot strands could plausibly drive an arresting story. When Jensen (My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time,...

A troubled therapist’s attempts in the very near future to treat an even more troubled teen rapidly escalate into visions of full-scale global disaster.

Even before she killed her mother, Bethany Krall was an unusual girl: bright, defensive and as manipulative in her own way as her father, an evangelical preacher. Now that she’s incarcerated and undergoing electro-convulsive therapy in the Oxsmith Adolescent Secure Psychiatric Hospital, she’s become so addicted to “volts” that she craves each treatment. And no wonder, for ECT seems to be turning her into a modern-day Nostradamus who can predict meteorological disasters with uncanny accuracy. When Bethany’s original psychotherapist takes a “sabbatical,” the teen is assigned to art therapist Gabrielle Fox, wheelchair-bound after the car crash that left her married lover dead. Unsure how far to trust this foul-mouthed, sociopathic patient and her increasingly eschatological prophecies of doom, Gabrielle joins forces with a Scottish physicist to monitor Bethany’s forecasts and then, when they prove out, to spread the word about them. The pair hope to avert worldwide havoc without destroying their reputations. Not surprisingly, they can’t. So what begins as an exceptionally fraught therapeutic dialogue adds more layers: romantic entanglements, forums on faith and its expressions, summer-movie end-of-days scenarios. The results are steadily more unnerving—not only because it’s not easy to contemplate the end of the world as we know it, but because the Armageddon sequences are interlarded with confessions of love, therapeutic breakthroughs, revelations of domestic abuse, religious views of the apocalypse, as well as question of whether Bethany’s unnerving predictions make her a prophet, a lucky guesser or a satanic figure who’s deliberately causing the disasters she’s pretending to foretell.

Any one of these plot strands could plausibly drive an arresting story. When Jensen (My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time, 2006, etc.) folds them all together, the result is a ride even bumpier than the one that killed Gabrielle’s lover.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-385-52821-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2009



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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