This cat’s cradle of characters and storylines—in which intersections are sometimes fleeting, sometimes acute, sometimes...

“There is the surface, and there is everything underneath” might be the motto of these 11 connected stories following the lives of students from a New Jersey high school into their 30s.

In 1996, 15-year-old Tess naively yearns to save her adored older brother from moving into a halfway house after a stint in rehab his senior year. In realizing she can’t protect him, Tess establishes newcomer Groves’ theme: how coping with the loss of innocence forms a person. Menacing male figures, dead-end jobs, and drug use are reoccurring motifs. The storytelling is not straightforward; it follows no chronology and moves among different contexts and viewpoints. In her 20s, first-grade teacher Amelia avoids dark suspicions concerning her husband by following random news stories, including one about weird Sally from high school running for mayor. Sally seems less weird than sad as a lonely freshman going to desperate measures to befriend popular senior Leslie. And Sally is irrelevant to Leslie’s emotional disintegration in the years after she graduates. Meanwhile, Amelia has abandoned teaching and marriage for waitressing by the time she runs across former classmate James; the dangerously sexy senior on whom Tess’ friend Margo had a crush has become a painfully lonely 35-year-old accountant. Margo, whose adolescence was disrupted by the dissolution of her parents’ marriage, unleashes her repressed rage at her 22nd birthday party. She particularly lashes out at her needy friend Rae, clueless about the trauma readers will later learn Rae suffered after a robbery and rape attempt, a trauma parallel to one Amelia’s ex-sister-in-law, Corrine, handles with a different set of emotional apparatus. Teachers, as parents, also enter the mix. School counselor Mark watches his life collapse after his daughter’s kidnapping in the particularly moving story “Grieving a Life of Water.” By the 20th high school reunion that Tess attends with her brother, futures remain uncertain but not hopeless.

This cat’s cradle of characters and storylines—in which intersections are sometimes fleeting, sometimes acute, sometimes permanent—deftly exposes the challenges, and terrors, of becoming an adult.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-943491-15-5

Page Count: 198

Publisher: BkMk/Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018


The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992



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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