Visceral and demanding; an unsettling collection that knocks you off balance.


Everyone in Tan’s world is broken and searching for connection, though in the 11 haunting stories collected here, the results are rarely what they bargained for.

With the eerie precision of oversaturated snapshots, each of Tan’s stories captures a different moment of desperation—some otherworldly, others deceptively mundane. In “Legendary,” which opens the collection, a woman studies her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends, searching for herself in their strange, unspoken sisterhood. In “Date Night,” a little girl in Hong Kong spends the night with her Indonesian nanny—new to the country, thousands of miles from her own children—while her mother is out with a date. In “New Jersey,” a teenage girl feels betrayed when her best friend loses her virginity to a boy. Other stories are stranger and more violent: “Laurens” follows a boy-Lauren and a girl-Lauren living brutally parallel lives: “They know how to skin things. Their fathers are hunters. The summer their mothers suicided, the Laurens went to SeaWorld San Diego, where they occupied the same quadrant of the bleachers during the Shamu show.” Both their stories end with blood. In the viciously sad “DD-MM-YY,” twin brothers have been competing for the same girl for years, though her own memories of this are shaky: She’s brain-injured from a car accident. Formatted like a movie script and taking up nearly 50 pages, “Candy Glass” is perhaps the most quietly affecting story in the collection, and the loneliest, about a Hollywood actress who falls for her stunt double. “Maybe funhouse mirrors would be scarier if, instead of making you look bad, they made you look better,” the actress observes, watching her doppelgänger. There is a gentle hesitancy to their relationship; in the end, the stunt double—a trans woman—will leave her, choosing to start fresh. “I’ll stick a flag in my lawn and go to church every Sunday, and marry a man. I’ll be part of the superstructure,” she says. “I don’t know how useful love is, in the long run.”

Visceral and demanding; an unsettling collection that knocks you off balance.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-56689-527-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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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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