An elegantly conceived tale—boasting a culturally and historically astute plot—that demands to be read.

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A tragic twist of fate leaves a revered artist destitute in Texas in this novel.

Seventy-year-old Cosimo Infante Cano was born in Cuba but forged a reputation as a modernist painter living and working in Paris. In 1961, he finds himself experiencing the same “nightmarish anxiety” he felt while fighting in the Great War as he wanders the streets of San Antonio with very little money. His plan was to make a passage from Europe to America to join his lover, Sara Hunter, whom he met in Paris and has known for 14 years. Yet, after his arrival in the United States, he discovers that his suitcases containing his “street clothes and address book” have been stolen. On reaching San Antonio, he then learns that Sara has been killed in a car accident. The wealthy Hunter family chooses to distance itself from him, making his situation even more precarious, as he had entrusted $45,000 to Sara to keep until his arrival along with two trunks packed with his clothes, tools, and brushes. Cosimo barely has the money to find himself a clean bed for the night, let alone the resources to sue the Hunters. Meanwhile, he faces a society where racial prejudice is commonplace. His appearance and bohemian attire mark him immediately as an outsider, or an “odd bird,” as one passerby remarks. Treated as a second-class citizen on account of his race and a vagrant because of his clothes, the city tries to prevent Cosimo from gaining a foothold, but the aging artist’s resilience may be underestimated. Cosimo’s struggle against the odds is absorbing from the get-go. Yet the manner in which Perez (Willa Brown, 2016, etc.) employs several layers of narrative, backtracking to detail the protagonist’s artistic life in ’40s Paris as well as alluding to the horrors he witnessed in World War I, adds richness and depth. The author diligently pins the main narrative to key political events of the era, most significantly the reluctant cessation of racial segregation in the South, which Ruthann Medlin, an openly bigoted San Antonio librarian, bemoans: “That was President Kennedy’s doing. Mixing all the races.” The compelling tale is driven predominantly by strong dialogue, with Perez capturing the sharpness and wit of bohemian cultural repartee, as when Sara playfully comments on a novel she has been translating: “The author’s characters are pale Edward Hopper creatures living in bleak hotel rooms. Having sex, not for pleasure mind you, but out of boredom. It’s as if they’re playing a winless game of tic-tac-toe.” The bond between Cosimo and Sara is also described in satisfyingly tender detail: “She reached out and took his hand, drawing him from the table to the settee. She found his slender fingers with nails trimmed into impeccable crescents particularly sensual.” There’s only one minor flaw: Because Cosimo is such a multifaceted, intricately drawn character, all the other players appear underdeveloped in comparison. Still, this does not detract from a captivating story that orchestrates a clever collision of artistic liberalism with the conservative values of the age.

An elegantly conceived tale—boasting a culturally and historically astute plot—that demands to be read.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-87565-729-5

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Texas Christian University Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019



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



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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