The expansive story, which substitutes dozens of subplots for the irresistible momentum of The Ice Harvest, couldn’t be more...

Phillips returns to Wichita, Kansas, the scene of the darkly hilarious crimes of The Ice Harvest (2000), to spin out undreamed-of details of what happened long before and long after.

Things have changed for retired cop Gunther Fahnstiel since the night of New Year’s Eve 1978, when he popped up in The Ice Harvest’s finale as the dimwit ex-machina who ended feckless attorney Charlie Arglist’s equally inept crime spree when he and his wife Dot accidentally backed their RV over him. Ten years after struggling with an equally refractory backhoe to bury Charlie’s body in Lester Carswell’s quarry, Gunther’s gone AWOL from the Lake Vista Elder Care Facility in search of the money he found in Charlie’s car and stashed somewhere or other. The news of addled Gunther’s escape draws an unlikely crew of pursuers and investigators to his trail: Ed Dieterle, a retired fellow officer who high-tails it up from Dallas; Gunther’s stepson Sidney McCallum, the bouncer who now runs local strip joint the Sweet Cage; Gunther’s ex-lover Loretta Gandy, who’s hiding a criminal secret of her own; and Dot, still fearful that the cops will get a line on Charlie’s money. A long, looping series of flashbacks to 1952 suggests that Dot’s fears are groundless because there are enough unsolved (often unsuspected) local felonies stretched out to the distant past as far as the eye can see to keep the searchers busy for another three or four volumes—assuming, of course, that the searchers, walkaways all, weren’t too interested in getting drunk and laid ever to find out the truth about anything in Phillips’s topsy-turvy world.

The expansive story, which substitutes dozens of subplots for the irresistible momentum of The Ice Harvest, couldn’t be more different from the chilly anecdote to which it serves as both prequel and sequel. After such a pair of tours de force, it’s hard to imagine what Phillips will come up with next.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-345-44020-X

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002



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



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

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