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For Casey, the search is the thing, whether as a writer or reader. This slim but astute volume is an inducement both to read...

Not whodunit, but why and how it works.

Ask a professional how great fiction is created, and you will usually receive an answer about the importance of a good plot, descriptive language, and writing “what you know about.” Casey (English/Univ. of Maryland; The Man Who Walked Away, 2014, etc.) goes for something deeper: how do great writers create that alluring kind of bewilderment that makes literary fiction unique? “Mystery in fiction,” she writes, “means taking the reader to that land of Un—uncertainty, unfathomability, unknowing. It’s Kafka’s axe to the frozen seas of our souls. In other words, it will—and it should—mess you up.” Using a variety of compelling examples, the author shows the myriad ways mystery can seduce and conquer. Writers like Isaac Babel create a structure of innocence where readers, along with his young protagonists, reach an epiphany. Mystery can make characters come alive as we learn a character’s secrets; perhaps even more so when we don’t. As the writer Paul Yoon tells Casey, just knowing that one of his characters has an undisclosed secret may be a way of knowing him “more deeply, having caught a glimpse into something so very private.” Mystery can also pull us deep into the lives of terrible people—e.g., the protagonist of J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians—or ones, such as Merricat in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in a Castle, whom we’d best avoid. These writers know how to normalize the most brutal or absurd private worlds. There is also imagery—whether it’s poor Hulga’s wooden leg in Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” or the multiplicity of windows in James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”—that can transform the very environment of the story itself.

For Casey, the search is the thing, whether as a writer or reader. This slim but astute volume is an inducement both to read more deeply and to head for ever more unchartered, frozen, mysterious waters.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-55597-794-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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