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IN THE HAND OF DANTE

Tosches would have us believe that he is Orson Welles, writing badly for dough and well for posterity. But Little, Brown...

From cultural critic and occasional novelist Tosches (Where Dead Voices Gather, 2001, etc.), a personal Commedia of errors that may not be the book of the millennium he aims for.

The plot turns on the original handwritten manuscript of The Divine Comedy, which has turned up in a secret room under the Vatican. A New York gangster has a shot at grabbing it, so who does he call to authenticate the pages? A “fictional” Nick Tosches, who coincidentally has published all the same books as the real Nick Tosches. Nick’s a shady figure with ties to the mob and a love of blackjack, but he also happens to have been obsessed with Dante for many years. Meantime, the story of the discovered manuscript is compelling, if often offensively vulgar, and the interplay between its thrill ride and a narrative history of Dante’s life makes for fascinating rhetoric. But the part of the novel everyone in the book industry has been waiting to read is the long rant against the publishing industry. About a quarter of the way in, Tosches makes an abrupt turn to lament the half-dozen conglomerates that have taken over (including his own publisher) and spends a few pages laying into senior editors (including his own). Is he really surprised by the sorry state of the book-business? Granted that he’s right (he is), then how is it that In the Hand of Dante, which he assures us no one will understand, has been published? None of this has anything to do with the Dante manuscript, and it’s disheartening to watch the same intelligence that produces “You would today be hard-pressed to find a senior editor in New York who had heard of Eliot’s The Sacred Wood, let alone read it” also descend to the lameness of “Fuck him. Fuck her. Fuck the other guy. Fuck you, whoever you are. Fuck you all.”

Tosches would have us believe that he is Orson Welles, writing badly for dough and well for posterity. But Little, Brown promises only that it will be “the most talked-about book of the decade.” No wonder he’s pissed.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2002

ISBN: 0-316-89524-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2002

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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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