Work that bears the promise of good things to come.

A first collection of short stories by newcomer White (How to Survive a Summer, 2017).

“How well can you know a person?” That question, posed by a therapist, provides a mantra for White’s stories, set in Mississippi and, within its confines, the South of people who are “educated and practical, mostly Southerners with quasi liberal leanings,” to say nothing of a former Miss Mississippi who “came out as a lesbian years after her reign.” The opening story, “The Lovers,” recounts a different kind of love story, a bisexual triangle that operates in all its awkward effort at casualness until the apex “got himself killed in a plane crash, and shit got complicated.” As with much literary fiction, the scenario pushes at the edges of probability but seems plausible—especially in the possibility that that educated, practical, liberal cohort, forming the audience for the ostensibly wronged wife’s podcast, consists of all the dead man’s former lovers, which “would make her, like, the ultimate fag hag.” White verges on fable with the next story, in which a man already in a very bad situation faces down the karma that just might be visited on him by a passing cottonmouth: “It braved to skim across his neck, and Pete could sense each of its tiny ribs as it treaded across his skin, rubbing his flesh like sandpaper.” A highlight is the title story, a fine exemplar of lower-class yearning, in this case to make a fortune as a country music star guided by a slick Svengali: “They’re all so whiney,” says the would-be star of the models he’s guided her to, to which he replies, “Whiney sells.” There’s little whining here, but all the adultery and unrequited longing and even a dead dog needed for a country hit are present. A bonus: White’s unapologetic homage to William Faulkner, known here as “the Author,” turned into an industry by the little town that once shunned him as a boozy menace.

Work that bears the promise of good things to come.

Pub Date: June 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-57365-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018


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



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

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