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YEAR OF THE RAT

Technically a novel, it will make all but the most experimental of readers throw it across a room.

Two hundred and some-odd pages of…something.

This debut novel by Philadelphia-based writer and artist Richardson won the FC2 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest for 2015, for what it’s worth. For mainstream readers, it will be virtually unreadable. Written in some sort of flash fiction/automatic writing style, the book is essentially one long rant punctuated by untranslated Latin phrases, footnotes nodding to sources ranging from F. Scott Fitzgerald to the Bible, and the occasional reproduction of an abstract painting. Technically, there’s a plot: a 35-year-old artist returns to the city of his birth to care for his ailing mother. “Sick women live forever,” he bemoans. Other than those basics, the book is violently difficult to parse. Early on, our nameless narrator spits on a little girl. “I forget her name: a name is nothing more than a cage. She is the archetype stuck between Scylla and Charybdis, an ungodly urban ugliness and a tumultuous racial myth: black sloth.” Later, musings on art: “Squinting is god. It negates detail and yet proposes it. It reduces everything to simple geometric shapes, the building blocks of a good drawing, revealing only the foundation the very thing that makes a thing what it is.” Still later, the protective son: “I want to shield you the way I want to shield the virginity of my mother who has not yet consummated her marriage to death, for whenever I imagine her without her fold-up shopping cart, waddling up walks and wheezing with quadpod canes and walkers, with pocket books and packages and plastic grocery sacks, her body, when she tries to do anything for herself I tell her she’s going to fall.” The book is certainly unique in voice and style, but it’s also frightening, ugly, dense, and borderline offensive. Even the most challenging of transgressive writers pales in comparison with the aimless rambling at work here.

Technically a novel, it will make all but the most experimental of readers throw it across a room.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-57366-057-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: FC2/Univ. of Alabama

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

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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OF MICE AND MEN

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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