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TELEPHONE

This is a novel that doesn't really try to make you believe in it, or in much of anything, including cause and effect.

A family tragedy inspires a professor to an act of heroism with strangers.

At the opening of the latest novel by the prolific, eclectic Everett (So Much Blue, 2017, etc.), first-person narrator Zach Wells doesn’t seem like someone who is likely to put himself on the line for others. He lives a very narrow life on automatic pilot, introducing himself as a man of “profound and yawning dullness.” He finds teaching to be rote; he considers his scientific research and publication to be all but pointless. His love for his daughter would appear to be the main thing holding his loveless marriage together. He initially deflects the pleas for support from a colleague making her tenure bid and the attentions of a student who seems to be flirting with him. “So often our stories begin at their ends,” he explains in the middle of establishing these plot details. “The truth was, I didn’t know which end was the beginning or whether the middle was in the true middle or nearer to that end or the other.” It's hard for the reader to find it interesting to be living inside Zach's head, since Zach doesn't find it very interesting. So, this is really a story about storytelling: the stories we tell ourselves, the way we shape them, and the way they shape our lives. Having introduced the elements of his plot, Zach sees the tenure case resolve itself in a shocking manner, and the flirtatious student simply disappears from the narrative. All of this feels somewhat arbitrary. The focus seems to narrow on the family, and the daughter in particular, who apparently starts to suffer from a rare disease that causes partial blindness, seizures, dementia, and death. It is “unusually progressive,” terminal, and there is no cure. It is hell in a world without God. Yet, in a plot device that might be called a deus ex machina, Zach receives a series of handwritten pleas for help in the pockets of clothing that he buys on eBay. Against his usual impulses, he acts on those pleas: “So that I might…redeem myself?” He doesn’t believe in redemption or a redeemer. But he has to do something.

This is a novel that doesn't really try to make you believe in it, or in much of anything, including cause and effect.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64445-022-2

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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