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THE COUNTRY OF ICE CREAM STAR

Praiseworthy for its solid efforts at worldbuilding but too long and diffuse to add much to the civilization-gone-awry...

A lesson from Thunderdome: Let there be no post-apocalyptic future without its mangled pidgin.

Lifting a page from Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, with which it shares numerous similarities, Newman’s (The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done, 2003, etc.) novel lands us in a decidedly unpretty near future. Its protagonist is a young woman named Ice Cream Fifteen Star, a member of a gang-cum-dynasty that migrated north from the “Chespea Water” into New England long ago but that now begins to form designs on its former stomping ground. The young folk of Ice Cream Fifteen Star’s world are tough: “We flee like dragonfly over water,” she tells us, “we fight like ten guns, and we be bell to see. Other children go deranged and unpredictable for our love.” They’re also susceptible to the reaper, who thins their number with a mysterious plague whose cure may just lie down south. The ones who survive the odds, in the social Darwinist world to come, are rather splendid, though: “Simón a child of middling height, with handsome looks of houndish sort. Bear himself peculiar straight, like all his muscles fix with hardness. Now he look tired rough, his face be scurfy with unsleep. Can see his age upon—is twentyish in heaviness.” Newman’s story is inventive, her characters memorable, but her novel labors under the terrific weight of having to carry out that lingo of the future over nearly 600 pages and not drive the reader mad, in which she is only partly successful. (The passages in which more or less standard English figures stand out for their strangeness.) The other problem is a rather lax storyline; by the time the children arrive at their Planet of the Apes–ish destination (“Ya, be Arlington Cemetery, where all ancient soldiers bury, when it been America”), there’s not much steam left.

Praiseworthy for its solid efforts at worldbuilding but too long and diffuse to add much to the civilization-gone-awry library.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-222709-6

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z(2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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