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Episodic and often surreal, with dark, complicated psychological undercurrents.

First English-language publication of a 1984 tale of knowledge gained and innocence lost in 1920s Tuscany, by rarely translated Viareggio Prize winner Bilenchi (1909–89).

A metaphorical chill begins to encroach on the 16-year-old narrator’s awareness with the death of his grandfather, a benevolent figure writ large on a young mind. Not long before, the old man had taken his grandson to an archaeological site where the discovery of a purse of Roman coins left a lasting impression of both history and impermanence. “Awareness of the transient is what gives value to man’s life,” declared grandfather, and this theme tints the narrator’s ongoing reflections on his emotionally turbulent experiences. The grandfather’s obsession with the Longobards who once invaded their region of Italy, the ruins that punctuate the landscape, seen from climbs up Monte Luca with an eccentric math teacher, the ancient fortresses and threshing floors, all contribute to the sense of a volcanic past seething beneath the idyllic surface. The narrator fears that his father will react in anger to rumors bandied about his mother, fears retribution for ratting out a friend for despicable treatment of girls and, when he himself is accused of wanting to touch the bosom of a man’s wife, fears that this minor transgression will diminish him in the eyes of his mother and the community. The darkness of the characters stands in stark contrast to the pastoral landscape: Adolescents hatch plots beneath the surface of a sunflower field, young ladies are sent to live with distant relatives for their dalliances with married men, or go to prison for botched abortions. When his friend spills another’s blood, the narrator is both wounded and infected with the impulse to violence. In this narrative of a transformation, we are left wondering whether the chill of emotional exile is externally imposed, or a product of the narrator’s own volition.

Episodic and often surreal, with dark, complicated psychological undercurrents.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-933372-90-7

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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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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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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