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GARDEN BY THE SEA

A captivating tale gently spun.

Amid a lush landscape, wealthy young Spaniards play at joy.

In a novel notable for its graceful, restrained prose—sensitively rendered by translators Tennent and Relaño—Catalan fiction writer Rodoreda (1908-1983) (War, So Much War, 2015, etc.) creates a finely etched portrait of 1920s Spanish society, as seen through the eyes of a quietly attentive gardener. “I’ve always enjoyed knowing what happens to people,” the gardener remarks in the book’s opening line, recalling, from the vantage of old age, six summers when he worked for the newly married Senyoret Francesc and his wife at their seaside villa outside of Barcelona. Tending his plants, the gardener has ample opportunity to observe the “cheerfulness and ostentation” of his employers and their guests, whose superficial revelry is blighted by suffering, loss, and failed dreams. From Quima, the easily affronted cook, who gets details from the maids; Toni, a stable hand who self-importantly calls himself a riding instructor; the laconic local innkeeper; and even the postman, the gardener is privy to an endless stream of gossip about the “fools,” as Quima calls them, “who create a lot of work for the rest of us.” Designing the beds, growing seedlings, replanting, and weeding take mindful care and sometimes exhausting effort. The garden itself, described in sensuous detail, takes a prominent role, an expression of the gardener’s aesthetic sensibility and of the arrogance and self-absorption of its owners. Justifiably proud of his plants, the gardener becomes irritated when guests pick flowers indiscriminately; and he is incredulous when ordered to remove a swath of flowerbeds to accommodate guests’ cars: “Do you suppose a flowerbed in full bloom is like a chair,” he retorts, “and you can just move it around as you please?” But for the wealthy class, the garden is a mere prop: The owner of a neighboring villa, for example, hurries to plant some greenery as decor for a party. More than once, seeing his own flowerbeds ruined, the gardener is pained “to think about the gladiolus and the fate they had met.” But, he acknowledges with calm resignation, “those who have the money make the rules.”

A captivating tale gently spun.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-948830-08-9

Page Count: 206

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

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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OF MICE AND MEN

Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed.

This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel." It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define.  Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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