Structurally flawed, but remarkably evocative—Horack’s Florida is as real as your own backyard.

After his story collection The Southern Cross (2009), Horack’s first novel tracks the adventures of a pygmy (and runaway slave) in early-19th-century Florida. 

Kau is a pygmy from central Africa. A tribal dispute leaves his family dead. Sold into slavery, he works for five years for a foul-tempered innkeeper in Georgia. By 1815, he’s had enough. The 29-year-old African enlists the help of Benjamin, the innkeeper’s son, in his escape, but when he refuses to allow Benjamin to accompany him, things go horribly wrong. He kills Benjamin, not intentionally, but murder is murder, and Kau will see himself as “a tiny cursed child-killer.” He makes his way to Florida. Not yet a U.S. territory, it’s a no-man’s-land, a patchwork occupied by the British, Spanish and Americans, as well as Indian tribes and runaway slaves. For Kau, violence proves inescapable. Before leaving Georgia, he was forced to kill a sentinel and a slavecatcher. He falls in with some redsticks (Creek Indians) who pressgang him into an attack on some white highwaymen. The redsticks die; Kau lives. His journey continues in its loose-jointed, anecdotal way until he crosses the path of the so-called General Garçon. The General is a highly educated runaway who has inherited a fort from the departing British. A charismatic leader, he has forged an alliance of English and Spanish-speaking blacks and Choctaws. His mission, to repel the advancing Americans, is doomed but galvanizing, more so than Kau’s quest for a sanctuary. It is significant that Kau’s finest hour comes as a dancing decoy who lures some American sailors to their death. Twice Kau attempts to leave the fort, and twice he returns, a yo-yo answering the General’s magnetic pull. So the novel is thrown out of whack, and the destination and salvation of the little fellow with the filed teeth ceases to matter that much. 

Structurally flawed, but remarkably evocative—Horack’s Florida is as real as your own backyard. 

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-58243-609-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010



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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