Well-crafted tales from a laudable tradition, though Ravenal might encourage more experimental voices next time.

A mixed bag of 18 mostly unsurprising stories by names both celebrated and more regionally obscure in the 19th installment of this well-established series.

As usual, series editor Ravenel aims for a broad readership with stories ranging from the generic writing-program sort (Michael Knight’s blithely paced account of a divorced father’s kidnapping of his young daughter, “Feeling Lucky”; Bret Anthony Johnston’s lachrymose and rather derivative “The Widow”) to more truly weird tales informed by innate southern proclivities for dogs, church signs, and General Lee (in, respectively, Ann Pancake’s “Dog Song,” Drew Perry’s delightful “Love is Gnats Today,” and R.T. Smith’s forlorn visit to the Lee Chapel in “Docent”). What makes this collection specifically southern? Tim Gautreaux in his preface suggests love for their region and for storytelling as salient traits. “A Rich Man,” which first appeared in The New Yorker (the others were published in literary magazines across the country), meets these criteria: The language is colloquial and stylistically unforced, the characters quirky and richly depicted, as Edward P. Jones shows his elderly protagonist taking up a life as a swinger and drug dealer following his wife’s death after 50 years of marriage mostly living in the same apartment house in Washington, DC. But not every story fits the mold; two that stand out in a most welcome fashion from the conventional selections are Brock Clarke’s edgy “The Lolita School,” delineating the curriculum of a “alternative country day school of some sort” in South Carolina that will mold young girls into Nabokov’s seductive heroine, and Elizabeth Seydel Morgan’s “Saturday Afternoon in the Holocaust Museum,” which follows an estranged couple's trek through a Richmond afternoon. Each author was asked to offer commentary on his or her story, which many find an unfortunate invasion of their fictional space: “I have trouble remembering whether much in my life was fact or imagined,” notes “Pagan” author Rick Bass in discomfort).

Well-crafted tales from a laudable tradition, though Ravenal might encourage more experimental voices next time.

Pub Date: June 4, 2004

ISBN: 1-56512-432-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2004



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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