A nostalgic little gem of a novel, with a quietly powerful message.

In Cruise’s debut novel, the death of a middle-aged Texan’s mother prompts him to reflect upon his childhood.

Linus “Bud” Ritter (named for the Peanuts character) and his siblings gather after their mother’s death shortly before Christmas 2008. Fifty-one-year-old Bud is a real estate agent and his wife, Franny, works at a junior high school. He and Franny discuss mortality and their life choices, including not having children; as a teen, Bud fathered a daughter who was given up for adoption. Before the funeral, he and the surviving Ritter siblings, known as the Nine, reminisce about growing up in the 1960s in Galveston, Texas. Money was tight, but times were good in their little house on 14th Street. Serendipitously, the home’s current owner allows the Nine to wander through the house one last, wondrous time. The author delivers a cohesive account of childhood, warts and all, and the enduring significance of a childhood home. Despite the novel’s brevity, Cruise crafts a realistic relationship among the Ritter kids and especially between Bud and Franny, whose married-couple banter rings true. The book teems with humorous expressions such as, “Christ on a cracker, I think I'm gonna blow!” and “I’m more of a holiday Catholic.” Anecdotes from the Nine’s collective childhood are similarly inventive and include a near-disaster by fire in a Christmas tree fort, averted by “The Patron Saint of Untoasted Children”; “The Legend of Lunchtime Horror”; and a fun-filled flight through a parking lot on a runaway grocery cart. The novel’s occasional serious moments are touching but not maudlin. Among its poignant comments is that today’s children don’t play much outdoors anymore; video games have trumped swings and slides. This novel may hold little appeal for readers in their 20s or early 30s, but it will likely engage and enchant Baby Boomers who remember their childhoods fondly.

A nostalgic little gem of a novel, with a quietly powerful message.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-1468145922

Page Count: 228

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2013



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

Close Quickview