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LETTING GO

This is Philip Roth's first novel, following Goodbye Columbus, his exhilarating, uncompromising collection of short stories. It may seem somewhat surprising that he has shed the discipline of that medium to the extent of writing a book which is easily three times as expansive as most. Perhaps in the beginning there is a certain diffusion of interest in the proliferation of backgrounds, characters, talk- expert as it is (the spoken word when written loses nothing in transition). But by the halfway mark, the book gains in definition and drive. This is the story of Gabe Wallach, who has disengaged himself from his background (i.e. a supplicant, widowed father- his Jewish faith) to go to Iowa, then Chicago to teach. A cautious, civilized young man, he "values passion" but avoids it. He is a solicitous friend to the Herzes- Libby and Paul- who through their mixed marriage (Libby is a Catholic) have gone through familial excommunication to now find themselves increasingly unhappy together. But while Libby holds a certain wistful attraction for Gabe, a Jamesian intellectualized rapport- (James is a taste they share)- it is Martha Regenhart, a divorcee with a heady allure, with whom Gabe has an extended affair. And although he officiates for the Herzes in securing a baby (black market) for them, he is also partially, responsible for the fact that Martha loses her two children. It is only through all these "shufflings and separations", the "rejections and the yearnings, the demands and the hesitations and betrayals" that Gabe finally confronts his own futility. And it is ironically his one attempt to do something which is affirmative which reveals, once and for all, the ineffectuality of his marginal existence.... Roth, in this field trip just outside of the Marjorie Morningside country, would seem to posit that the assimilated Jew may fail to be an assimilated individual; one step, one generation removed from family and faith, the displacement leads to spiritual and emotional destitution. It is a clear-eyed, tough-minded contemporary commentary, and it has all this young writer's remembered virtues: bluntness, decisiveness, and above all an undiminished vitality which promises that his readers will not let go. It will get attention.

Pub Date: June 15, 1962

ISBN: 0679764178

Page Count: 807

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1962

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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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