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ALL DECENT ANIMALS

Kempadoo’s sensuous language and tangled storytelling veer between hypnotic and incomprehensible.

Guyanese-British Kempadoo’s third novel (Tide Running, 2003, etc.) again takes on the socioeconomic complexity of the Caribbean, this time in Trinidad as a multiracial group cares for a friend dying of AIDS.

A fluid sense of time and Kempadoo’s mix of native patois and feverishly descriptive prose creates an almost hallucinogenic atmosphere to fill out the skeletal story of Trinidadian architect Fraser’s last days. Before his diagnosis, Fraser was already the center of a multicultural, multiracial circle of educated, artistic types. The son of middle-class Trinidadians, educated at Cambridge and gay, Frazier is a confusion of mixed allegiances, and during the lively parties he throws at the beautiful home he designed, his own conversation shifts in a heartbeat from local slang to proper British. But after he collapses from renal failure and discovers he has full-blown AIDS, his friends surround him: his tough but devoted houseboy, his lovers, his elegant and sexy women friends, the Catholic priest with whom he sparred over a building project, his furiously proper mother and browbeaten father, the working-class cab driver who suffered his own catastrophic loss when his Indian girlfriend was murdered. In particular, there is the Caribbean artist Ata, whose conflicted consciousness lightly weaves together the fragmented plot. Ata lives with Fraser’s friend Pierre, a French U.N. bureaucrat, and Fraser’s illness exposes cracks in the couple’s relationship. Like Fraser, Ata finds herself torn between her identity as a Caribbean and her embrace of Pierre’s European sophistication. Despite its intense sensuality, this is a novel more of ideas than emotions. How to balance the corruption and the creativity that define Trinidad and its vibrant but disturbingly violent boomtown capital, Port of Spain? How to balance European logic against the less rational, even magical power of the island? How to move past the history of political domination? How to live fully in the moment yet think clearly? How to communicate to anyone outside oneself? “How to live with the ugliness of the beauty we love?”

Kempadoo’s sensuous language and tangled storytelling veer between hypnotic and incomprehensible.

Pub Date: May 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-29971-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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