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A bit labored and opaque, but atmospheric, increasingly engrossing and ultimately very rewarding.

The metaphor of espionage is put to good effect, in an intricate tale by German author Beyer.

The unnamed narrator here pieces together the complex history of his estranged grandfather’s life as part of a “game” he shares with the three cousins (actually, this only child’s de facto siblings) he grew up with in a small German village. Recurring flashbacks tell of a girl who forged a career as an opera singer, attracting the attention of a former childhood friend, who in 1936 flew secret Luftwaffe missions in support of besieged royalist forces during the Spanish Civil War. What the cousins learn—or think they learn—decades later is that their bereaved grandfather (the aforementioned pilot) took a second wife: a choleric “Old Lady” who undertook to destroy all her husband’s memories of his first wife and prevent any communication among him, his children and their children (i.e., the cousins). All this, and much more (including the real nature of their grandfather’s loss and grief), becomes clear only very gradually, as Beyer (The Karnau Tapes, 1997) circles around his story’s hidden core, moving backward and forward in several time periods and from one to another of his characters’ viewpoints. The children who seek to recover their own history thus become “spies” observing and speculating about their elders—as were the latter themselves, in circumstances shaped by both the wars of the 1930s and ’40s and by the exigencies of two destroyed marriages. Several recurring images (a peephole, a camera eye, “spores” floating in the air, a ceramic figure of a Spanish dancer, a model airplane, numerous mysterious family photographs) become clues to the mysteries that challenge the cousins—and the reader—until the story’s (quite nicely handled) climactic revelations.

A bit labored and opaque, but atmospheric, increasingly engrossing and ultimately very rewarding.

Pub Date: July 11, 2005

ISBN: 0-15-100859-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2005

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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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