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EMPTY STREETS

A lot of patience is necessary to make sense of this winding narrative, but it's an eventful road.

Ajvaz (Golden Age, 2010, etc.) braids together various histories, stories, motivations, and losses while an unnamed narrator weaves through the streets of Prague.

The story truly begins with a surrealist movement in Prague back in the 1970s, but the narrator is first introduced struggling to write a novella in 1999. While taking a walk to cure his writer’s block, he steps into a web of mystery when his foot is pierced by a strange object he calls a double trident. For the rest of the day, the narrator repeatedly encounters symbols in the same shape, and then he gets a phone call from Jakub Jonás, a former literary critic whose daughter, Viola Jonásová, has been missing for two years. At Jonás’ behest and to satiate his own curiosity, the narrator spends the next eight days searching for Viola. He snakes through the city, “watchful for any opportunity, any encounter with a person unknown, any snatch of conversation overheard in the streetcar, any machine of unknown purpose, any broken-off piece of something at a dump” that might lead him to her. Ajvaz’s previous work on philosophy and his in-depth study of Jorge Luis Borges shine through. Each character bearing a relationship with the double trident has an intricate philosophy on various art forms and their roles within his or her method of whimsy. Often characters speak for entire chapters as the narrator listens, parsing the monologues for clues about the missing girl. In this convoluted novel are mosaics of characters and histories; silence and sound; art and torture. By the end of Part I, it’s hard to discern exactly what is myth and what is reality. However, the work is meticulously crafted. No tension is lost in the tangential rants of fleeting characters. As easy as it is to read through with rapt attention, this novel would definitely benefit from rereadings and re-examinations.

A lot of patience is necessary to make sense of this winding narrative, but it's an eventful road.

Pub Date: March 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-56478-700-2

Page Count: 488

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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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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