Vivid characters caught in a repressive regime fuel this powerful novel.

A military dictatorship fragments a family in this short novel by the late Uruguayan writer Benedetti (1920-2009; Blood Pact, 1997, etc.), originally published in 1982 and translated into English for the first time.

Santiago sits indefinitely in a Uruguayan prison because of his political activism while his wife, Graciela, and their 9-year-old daughter, Beatriz, have lived in exile for the past five years. He exchanges long letters with Graciela and thinks wistfully that “the only proof of god’s existence are Graciela’s legs.” Readers might wonder where he gets all the paper—the letters are that long—and nothing in them seems to catch the attention of the censors. Benedetti explores the pain of separation from loved ones, the mix of loneliness, hope and despair in a man who has no idea when he'll be released. Santiago's father, Don Rafael believes that memories of the family may be keeping his son alive. But the confinement will destroy what they have, because, as Graciela says, “The fact is, I don’t need Santiago anymore.” Prison changes both husband and wife, but her letters do not reveal that she has drifted out of love. Perhaps, she thinks, she is falling in love with Santiago’s best friend and fellow leftist, Rolando. She daydreams only of Rolando but she can’t bring herself to break the news to Santiago while he is still in prison, as it would destroy him. “I still love him as a wonderful friend,” she confides to the sympathetic Don Rafael, “a comrade whose behaviour has been beyond reproach.” The language is often beautifully expressive, as when Don Rafael reflects that one day his son “will have to see Graciela through the bars of another man’s love.” Beatriz adds her own childlike insights, perhaps reflecting a cognitive disability, noting for example that “freedom is a huge word” that “means many things” such as liberty, but her father is at Liberty Prison, which confuses her. One day Uruguay will be transformed, Don Rafael believes, “born in the backroom of the forbidden,” but “we’ll never again be what we were.” This powerful novel evokes the works of Gabriel García Márquez.

Vivid characters caught in a repressive regime fuel this powerful novel.

Pub Date: April 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62097-490-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019



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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