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JEWELRY TALKS

A NOVEL THESIS

Seamless, sophisticated, and compelling: fiction that wears its learning lightly, makes “gender” become again something...

Klein (Cigarettes Are Sublime, 1993; Eat Fat, 1996) adds to the recent spate of novels without events (or with mighty few). And he does so brilliantly, in a book riveting to anybody interested in sex, celebrities, monarchies, gossip, history—or jewelry.

Lucky is the girl named Zeem, who, though invisible in these pages, is the one to whom they’re all addressed: by her great-uncle (last name Zinzo), who is nearing death, who will bequeath to Zeem his entire collection of jewelry (inherited from his courtesan mother), and who has always wished he’d been a woman, trying all his life to live as one—earning the wrath of Zeem’s “sonofabitch of a father,” a character also invisible in these pages. But who needs him? Who needs anyone else when uncle Zinzo is here, talking endlessly, abstrusely, wonderfully, not just about his own life but about the lives of those who have fascinated him most: Coco Chanel, the Duchess of Windsor (along with a choice bit or two about the Duke), Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, and a good handful of the most remarkable (sexually and in other ways) denizens of the court of the Louis XIV. “I am my jewelry,” declares Zinzo at one point, while elsewhere (amid his many admonitions to Zeem about femininity, poise, dress, manner, etc.) he explains that “I’ve assumed the project of wearing jewelry like a woman because it strikes me as the highest form of prayer.” What could he mean? Enter, dear reader, and find out, along with info about his years as a female dancer at the Alcazar in Paris “in the fifties,” his meeting of his life-partner Amad (a female, technically), his learning the “secret language of jewelry” (my, my, such things it says—and sees), and much, much more.

Seamless, sophisticated, and compelling: fiction that wears its learning lightly, makes “gender” become again something fascinating, and weaves out of words a richer dish by far than another old “story” might ever be.

Pub Date: July 5, 2001

ISBN: 0-679-44198-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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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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