More of a mood piece than a novel.


Hippies’ offspring turn out to be as anxious and confused as regular kids.

Swann opens with an idyllic portrait of four children running free in rural Pennsylvania: “They spend their whole lives in trees . . . they discover locust shells, treefrogs, a gypsy moth’s cocoon.” Their idealistic parents intend to create a new world “in which nothing is lied about . . . [or] concealed,” but soon their father has moved out, their mother has a new boyfriend and the kids are attending school, where “they’re mortified by what they know and have seen.” (Most grade-schoolers have not heard their father describe the differences between the way their mother and other women make love.) The narration shifts from rapturous third person to the voice of Maeve, who chronicles the next five years with older sister Lu and younger brothers Tuck and Clyde as they negotiate the minefields laid by their parents’ bohemian ways. Their talkative, feckless father gets most of the attention; in the best and funniest chapter, “Intervention,” we learn that Dad’s parents and siblings are as odd as he is. Their mother’s mother, by contrast, is conventional and censorious; at her house, the children are embarrassed by their mother’s earnestness and unconventional clothes. “Secret” examines Lu’s and Maeve’s relationships with other kids at school, including two brothers, big-city transplants rumored to have moved to Pennsylvania due to trouble back home. Though Maeve kisses the older boy a few times, class trumps ideals; she and Lu are sent to a better school to prepare for college, while the Kalowski brothers fall into petty crime. It’s hard to discern what readers are meant to take away from this parade of disjointed chapters that reads more like a story collection than a novel. Swann’s prose is as lovely as ever, but her insights here are less penetrating, her portrait of a hippie childhood vaguer than the razor-sharp specificity with which she delineated adolescence in Serious Girls (2003).

More of a mood piece than a novel.

Pub Date: May 10, 2007

ISBN: 1-59448-945-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2007

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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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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