Classic examples of the art of short fiction, capturing the variety of human experience with sophisticated economy.

Esteemed in her lifetime but largely forgotten today, short story master Hale (1908-1988) gets a welcome reintroduction in this collection of 25 astute, finely wrought tales.

Novelist Groff, who made the judicious selections, also provides an introduction sketching the writer’s background: Born into Boston’s Yankee aristocracy, the daughter of bohemians without a lot of money, Hale was a debutante who cast a cold eye on the class she came from while enjoying its glamorous accoutrements. The early stories from the 1930s and early 1940s have backgrounds that would have been familiar to Fitzgerald: coming-out parties, jazz orchestras, Ivy League athletics, fast driving in fancy cars. Yet they paint quietly acid pictures of Southern snobbery (“That Woman”), male dominance masking fragility (“Crimson Autumn”), and ethnic tensions in summer communities (“To the North”). Hale is rarely overtly political, but two stories from the '40s, “Those Are as Brothers” and “The Marching Feet,” stingingly make the point that fascism has home-grown versions. Long before the feminist movement was reborn, she acknowledged women’s ambivalence about having children (“The Bubble”) and the potential oppressiveness of marriage (“Sunday—1913”). Hale’s personal experience of mental illness sparks some of the collection's best work: “Who Lived and Died Believing” expertly blends a harrowing account of electric shock treatment with a sharp portrait of a kind nurse’s romance with a callous resident; “Some Day I’ll Find You…” and “Miss August” both anatomize intricate social interactions in psychiatric sanatoriums, the former with a comic touch, the latter in a darker tone. Hale’s prose is elegant without calling attention to itself, like the well-cut dresses one is sure her female characters wear. There’s a slight slackening in some of the later stories, but not in “Rich People” (1960), a marvelously complex examination of a woman’s seething ambivalence about her “high thinking and plain living” family and herself that closes with the anguished question, “Where is my life?”

Classic examples of the art of short fiction, capturing the variety of human experience with sophisticated economy.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59853-642-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019


The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992



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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