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THE SPORTSWRITER

BASCOMBE TRILOGY (1)

For all its technical virtuosity, Ford's chummy narrative fails to transcend its rather tired genre: the male, mid-life crisis novel. Unavoidably confessional, this back-slapping fictional memoir by the author of A Piece of My Heart and The Ultimate Good Luck boasts of its "dirty realist" conceit: "the only truth that can never be a lie. . .is life itself." In this case, "life itself" (a.k.a. Real Life as opposed to the artifice of sissified fiction) means the extraordinary ordinariness of Frank Bascombe, a 38-year-old sportswriter for a magazine much like Sports Illustrated, who's part of a "modern, divided family." His ex-wife, "X," lives nearby in suburban New Jersey with their two kids and the shared memory of a "genetic" existence. What brings them temporarily together at the novel's outset is the same thing that inspires Frank's uncharacteristically introspective ramble: the birthday of their son Ralph, who died a few years back from Reyes. Until recently, Frank's managed to "face down regret" and "avoid ruin"; once a promising fiction writer, he now prefers to write about a subject for which he holds no special brief. As he tries to explain in his own meandering way, everyone touched lately by his unexemplary life seems bent on destroying the equanimity he finds in suburban anonymity. There's Herb, for instance: the crippled, ex-football player who Frank interviews in hope of an uplifting tale, but who offers instead a bitter story of a sportsman without a sport (i.e., a man without a metaphor for his life). There's also Waiter: the newest member of the Divorced Men's Club, who, by confiding some dark secrets to Frank, transforms male bonding into a kind of male bondage. And then there's Vicki: Frank's latest flame, a sexy young nurse whose taste runs to synthetics, but who refuses to be the pliant bimbo Frank really seems to want. When it comes right down to it, though, it's never very clear in this confused novel what Frank wants, except to convince the reader that "being a man gets harder all the time." Ford's singular voice seems squandered on such disposable wisdom and such an insignificant life.

Pub Date: March 1, 1986

ISBN: 0679762108

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Vintage/Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1986

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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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