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MEYER

An anemic mishmash—for loyal fans only.

The prolific postmodernist (Phone Rings, 2005, etc.) profiles a writer trawling for material among family memories and fantasies.

It’s safe to say that the name of the writer is Meyer Ostrower, and that he lives with his wife Sandra in a Baltimore suburb; safe because this information is given frequently. It’s also safe to say that Sandra is 11 years younger than the 68-year-old Meyer. Other details are more murky (we’re given two versions of how they met) and sometimes Meyer flat out contradicts himself, as in his account of groping a female neighbor. An unreliable narrator, indeed. Supposedly, Meyer is a tenured professor, but we don’t see him on campus; when he’s not taking trips down memory lane, he’s home doing chores (there’s a whole section on cleaning the kitchen), napping or sitting at his typewriter (he’s seriously blocked). At the beginning, he’s having sex with his wife in the bathroom, but Meyer’s no stud; most of the time he can barely get it up. Death, not sex, is his major preoccupation. What if Sandra dies? Will it be fast or slow? How will he die? Pneumonia, heart attack? As for his mother, “he’s covered her death plenty,” but maybe he can treat it from a new angle. In one section, deaths reach a crescendo as his phone never stops ringing with news of another death, some eight in all—mostly relatives but a Siamese cat is part of the mix. It’s an absurdist sequence with an energy that’s lacking in his dreary recollections of attending his mother and his stepfather in their final days, or his fantasy of approaching his wife as a complete stranger. He’s his current age, but she’s much younger, and naturally she rejects him. The scene has an inherent futility, the same futility that dogs his attempt to write Sandra a letter after years of housekeeping notes.

An anemic mishmash—for loyal fans only.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-933633-30-5

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2007

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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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THE SECRET HISTORY

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

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