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THE METAPHYSICAL UKULELE

Paradoxically both wacky and thoughtful—an odd mix.

In each of these 12 stories, Carswell imitates the style and/or preoccupations of another author, using real events from the writers' lives…and also inserts a ukulele—literal, metaphorical, or metaphysical.

The authors Carswell chooses to imitate include, among others, Herman Melville, Jack Kerouac, Chester Himes, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Chandler, and finally (with a glance at a literary legacy of his own making?) Carswell himself. The stories aren't told from the points of view of the authors, but rather, the authors are characters in the stories. We are informed, for example, that Melville was a “brilliant ukulelist” and that he’s erotically transfixed by Fayaway, a character from Typee, his first novel. In “A Place Called Sickness,” Flannery O’Connor is enamored of Erik Langkjaer, Danish textbook salesman, who visits her as she’s playing bluegrass songs on her ukulele. One of the most successful stories involves Raymond Chandler, whose distinctive noir idiom Carswell comes close to capturing. It seems a ukulele is missing, and Chandler needs it to overcome writer’s block as he’s trying to finish his script for The Blue Dahlia. The narrator is a sleuth, hitting a bar and trying to find the ukulele and "get the writer writing." The final story is about a 7-year-old named Sean Carswell, and it’s a bagatelle concerning misbehavior at school, especially involving a mildly indelicate version of Mother-May-I that all children have indulged in.

Paradoxically both wacky and thoughtful—an odd mix.

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-63246-026-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Ig Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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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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