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BEING MRS. ALCOTT

At once bleak and dishonest: repeatedly affirming traditional family life while leaving readers with the sense that slow...

A blue-blood Cape Cod matron takes stock of her blameless life.

Grace Alcott has always kept strictly to the beaten path. Her husband is a prig, but faithful and a good provider. He is also the only man she has ever kissed. She has devoted her life exclusively to raising his children, a life so serene that the story skips from Grace’s early 20s to her late 50s without missing a single event of importance. Then the middle-aged grandmother’s safe world begins to fall apart. Her husband loses his wealth through an ill-considered business scheme. Her alcoholic brother commits suicide after confessing to an adulterous affair with Grace’s best friend. The friend, Prissy, vanishes without explanation just as Grace is diagnosed with breast cancer. Meanwhile, her two sons are shallow, selfish creatures for whom she feels a spirited dislike. The elder is a shiftless hippie who demands to be supported by his parents so that he can tend his three children while his sluttish wife pursues her career as a healer. The younger is a realtor who sees his parents only as an impediment to his inheritance. Under these circumstances, it is no surprise that Grace keeps her cancer secret and eschews treatment. At the 11th hour, the tale draws back from this grim conclusion, but its tardy affirmation of Grace’s cardboard marriage fails to convince. Long conversations about the characters’ reawakening offer a poor substitute for actual reawakening. Veteran mystery author Geary (Regrets Only, 2004, etc.) boasts a fluid prose style, and her rendering of upper-class foibles is charming. Her neat satirical observations, however, are wasted on a baggy plot and timid resolution.

At once bleak and dishonest: repeatedly affirming traditional family life while leaving readers with the sense that slow death is preferable.

Pub Date: July 18, 2005

ISBN: 0-446-53220-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2005

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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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