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DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD

In her depictions of her characters and their worlds—both internal and external—Tokarczuk has created something entirely new.

A series of deaths mystifies a small Polish village.

When her neighbor Big Foot turns up dead one night, Janina Duszejko and another neighbor, Oddball, rush to his house to lay out the body and properly dress him. They’re having trouble getting hold of the police, and, as Oddball points out, “He’ll be stiff as a board before they get here.” Janina and Oddball—and Big Foot, up till now—live in an out-of-the-way Polish village on the Czech border. It’s rural, and remote, and most of the other inhabitants are part-time city-dwellers who only show up in the summer, when the weather is more temperate. Janina narrates Tokarczuk’s (Flights, 2018) latest creation to appear in English. But she wouldn’t like to hear herself referred to by that name, which she thinks is “scandalously wrong and unfair.” In fact, she explains, “I try my best never to use first names and surnames, but prefer epithets that come to mind of their own accord the first time I see a Person”—hence “Oddball” and “Big Foot.” Janina spends much of her time studying astrology and, on Fridays, translating passages of Blake with former pupil Dizzy, who comes to visit. But after Big Foot dies, other bodies start turning up, and Janina and her neighbors are drawn further and further into the mystery of their deaths. Some of the newly dead were involved in illegal activities, but Janina is convinced that “Animals” (she favors a Blakean style of capitalization) are responsible. Tokarczuk’s novel is a riot of quirkiness and eccentricity, and the mood of the book, which shifts from droll humor to melancholy to gentle vulnerability, is unclassifiable—and just right. Tokarczuk’s mercurial prose seems capable of just about anything. Like the prizewinning Flights, this novel resists the easy conventions of the contemporary work of fiction.

In her depictions of her characters and their worlds—both internal and external—Tokarczuk has created something entirely new.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-54133-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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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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