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EVERYMAN

A rich exploration of the epiphany that awaits us all—that “life’s most disturbing intensity is death.”

Roth follows his recent succession of critically acclaimed novels (e.g., American Pastoral, 1997; The Plot Against America, 2004) with a compact meditation on mortality, which partially echoes his 1991 memoir-novel Patrimony.

Inspired by the medieval English allegorical drama whose title it shares, it’s the story of an erring, death-haunted representative man (never named). It begins as his departed spirit observes his own funeral, then weaves backward and forward throughout his past life, envisioned as inevitable progression from virile youth through morally compromised adulthood and middle age, into “his sixties when his health began giving way and his body seemed threatened all the time,” and beyond—into the beyond. This Everyman grows up in Elizabeth, N.J., the son of a benevolent and prosperous jeweler, further blessed by a doting mother and a tirelessly kind and supportive “perfect” older brother. He enjoys a successful career as an advertising agency’s art director, but fails at marriage (losing three wives, as he pursues countless other women), and is almost as disastrous a parent, suffering permanent estrangement from the two sons of his first marriage, but achieving a sustaining relationship with daughter (from his second marriage) Nancy, whose patient filial devotion interestingly parallels that of the medieval Everyman’s character Good Deeds, who accompanies the title character into the realm of Death. This risky novel is significantly marred by redundancy and discursiveness (especially by a surfeit of rhetorical questions), but energized by vivid writing, palpable emotional intensity and several wrenching scenes—for example, encounters in the painting class that he (an amateur artist) organizes for other seniors at his retirement village; a blistering exchange with second wife Phoebe, long aware of his womanizing; a wonderful conversation with a black gravedigger at the cemetery where his parents are buried, where he’ll soon be buried.

A rich exploration of the epiphany that awaits us all—that “life’s most disturbing intensity is death.”

Pub Date: May 9, 2006

ISBN: 0-618-73516-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2006

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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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