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HONEYSUCKLE & PAIN

From the The Familiar series , Vol. 3

It’s a marvel of postmodern storytelling and decidedly not for every taste. For the moment, suffice it to say that things...

“Look at it, Xanther, breathe it in, never forget: this is what you get when there is no law.” The saga continues, and Xanther’s happy world is cracking at the edges.

Experimentalist-plus-some Danielewski (Into the Forest, 2015, etc.) is one-ninth of the way into his 27-volume opus, The Familiar, and the chickens, if not felines, are beginning to come home to roost. Just barely adolescent, Xanther, the geeky but resourceful center of the piece, is beginning to feel stirrings of a psychic unease that in turn hints at untold powers of mind: when her dad, Anwar, hits a squirrel while out driving, she tries mightily to save it, then subjects herself to a kind of self-interrogation: “the Question Song re-announces itself now with everything about that little creature: how old was it? 432 days. was its mother still alive? No. its father? No. was it a he or a she. She was pregnant.” Xanther is just trying to live a normal life, what passes for normal life for her anyway, in a summer full of—yes—blooming honeysuckle and plenty of pain. That’s no easy task, that normality, in a world full of Islamic State group atrocities, Salvadoran street gangs, and chained alpha felines: “You always keep your hands between your face and the jaws….And you never say no to a lion.” Anwar, meanwhile, is worried sick, for being an eccentric polymath doesn’t pay the bills. Danielewski’s vision of the near-future is dystopian but not Blade Runner so: his world is pretty much like ours, save that not everyone speaks in ways that are easily comprehended, especially the faraway Asian players whose missing cat somehow tumbled into Xanther’s world in the first volume. Such a future requires all sorts of odd typographic conventions, drawings, and Go notations, natch, and Danielewski obliges until the reader’s head spins.

It’s a marvel of postmodern storytelling and decidedly not for every taste. For the moment, suffice it to say that things are looking dicey for Xanther and company.

Pub Date: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-375-71498-6

Page Count: 880

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z(2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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THE SECRET HISTORY

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

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