A poignant and promising first novel.

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Nonfiction author McManus (The Hawaiian House Now, 2007) offers a late-19th-century drama set during the Hawaiian royal family’s fall from power.

In 1891, Eliza Dawson, the haole (Caucasian) daughter of a wealthy sugar plantation owner in Honolulu, and Ben Ahsang, the son of a prominent Chinese merchant who originally amassed his fortune in the legal opium trade, are in love. When the Hawaiian king, Kalakaua, dies, Ben’s father foresees a compromised future for Hawaiians of Chinese heritage. He sends Ben to China, where an arranged marriage awaits him. Soon after, the heartbroken 17-year-old Eliza discovers that she’s pregnant with Ben’s child. Because she insists on keeping the baby, her father bribes Abram Malveaux to marry her. Abram is a fearsome man who manages a ranch on the isolated island of Molokai, where Eliza goes on to endure treachery and tragedy. When she eventually escapes back to Oahu, she finds the island on the brink of revolution. The queen is under house arrest, and the haole landowners, descendants of the Christian missionaries, are about to succeed in a plan involving the American annexation of Hawaii. Eliza’s father sides with the Hawaiian rebels, and she becomes his secret emissary to the queen. Although Eliza’s story occasionally skirts the edge of melodrama, it nevertheless serves as an engaging vehicle for a vivid history lesson and an intimate portrait of a Hawaii on the precipice of change. McManus skillfully weaves in descriptions of Honolulu’s beauty and floral scents, the anguish of Molokai’s leper colony, and the vast intermingling of cultures on the islands (for example, Ben’s father is Chinese, his mother’s English and Hawaiian). Eliza’s narration uses intermittent, unspoken thoughts, diary entries, and unmailed letters to her best friend, the Crown Princess Ka’iulani, to move the story back and forth in time, recalling past, carefree days and exposing her present, deep sadness. A large cast of well-drawn characters, including some vile villains, adds interest and momentum.

A poignant and promising first novel.

Pub Date: June 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5432-3210-3

Page Count: 334

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2017



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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