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Dixon is a master of the minor moments, the dreams and the disappointments, that transfigure every one of us.

Dixon's new collection explores the heart of an aging man's life.

Why isn’t Dixon a household name? The author of more than 30 novels and collections of short stories, he is regarded, when he is regarded, as a “writer’s writer,” which is about as backhanded as a compliment can get. Yet his writing, which is plainspoken and deceptively straightforward, is the sort that sticks with you, because it cuts to the uncertainty of life. His new collection is a case in point: 31 linked stories about a writer named Philip Seidel, who is wrestling with the depredations of age. Seidel’s chronology and Dixon’s overlap—both live and work in Baltimore (Dixon taught writing at Johns Hopkins for many years) and both are recently widowed (Dixon’s wife, the poet and translator Anne Frydman, died of complications from multiple sclerosis in 2009). But don’t let that confuse you into thinking these efforts are thinly veiled autobiography. Rather, they offer moment-by-moment deep dives into longing and despair and forgetfulness, memory and fantasy. In the opening story, “Wife in Reverse,” Dixon traces the dynamic of a marriage in a page and a half, beginning with the death of the protagonist’s spouse and ending with their first meeting three decades before. In the second, he imagines the paralyzing loss of an adult child. What he is evoking is possibility, conditionality, the sense that everything could change, or fall apart, in any given instant. That this is the essence of fiction goes without saying; it has been the impetus behind Dixon’s project all along. And yet, in this stirring and heartfelt book, Dixon goes beyond loss into the kind of preservation that only literature can provide. That’s not to say his stories traffic in illusion; perhaps projection is a better word. “Remember” delineates, in excruciating detail, the slow forgetting of its aging protagonist (“He feels his fly. It’s open; forgot again. Makes him even more worried about himself”), while the stunning “Just What Is” and “Just What Is Not” investigate two sides of an affair that never was, highlighting the tension between inner and outer life. In the end, nothing happens, although, of course, everything does. Or, as Dixon observes in the transcendent “Missing Out,” which imagines an alternate life in which Seidel never met the wife who has left him widowed: “Nothing. I told you. It was all in my head. Was I in dreamland? You bet. Not that she would have been interested in me.”

Dixon is a master of the minor moments, the dreams and the disappointments, that transfigure every one of us.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-940430-87-4

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Curbside Splendor

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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NORMAL PEOPLE

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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