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A HIGHLY UNLIKELY SCENARIO

OR, A NEETSA PIZZA EMPLOYEE'S GUIDE TO SAVING THE WORLD

This play on history and heritage plunges headlong into the mystic, but it’s written for a very niche market.

A man from the future explores the past through his heritage in this quirky metaphysical adventure.

This is an intrepid debut from frequent short story contributor Cantor, but any reader without an encyclopedic knowledge of Jewish mysticism may wish to come armed with an open Wikipedia page. Meet Leonard—Leonard works in the complaints department of Neetsa Pizza, in a futuristic world where global commerce is dominated by fast-food chains. Leonard works in a clean room in his home answering the phones, chatting occasionally with his sister Carol, babysitting his nephew Felix and asking questions of the “Brazen Head,” a contemporary version of the medieval automaton reputed to be able to answer any question. Because all of this isn’t odd enough, Leonard suddenly can only get calls from “Milione,” an explorer from the 13th century who nightly describes his travels to the Orient. Next, a stranger begins leveling some serious history onto Leonard, a man who oddly speaks with the voice of Leonard’s dead grandfather but who identifies himself as the kabala scholar Rabbi Yitzhak Saggi Nehor, known colloquially as Isaac the Blind. It’s fair to say that the average reader could easily be a quarter of the way into Leonard’s adventure in space and time before realizing he or she is deeply mired in a witty but quite eccentric exploration of Jewish mysticism. For being a rather petite book, it lures in an array of historical figures ranging from Abraham Abulafia, the founder of Prophetic Kabbalah, to Marco Polo to the English philosopher Roger Bacon. It’s an unusual way to examine Jewish history and medieval thinking, but the story doesn’t carry enough weight to justify the experiment. Leonard makes for an amusing protagonist, and Cantor makes some salient points about passing on generational wisdom, but it doesn’t completely work as satire, science fiction or farce.

This play on history and heritage plunges headlong into the mystic, but it’s written for a very niche market.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61219-264-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2014

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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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NORMAL PEOPLE

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Awards & Accolades

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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