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THE HARMONY SILK FACTORY

Atmospherics substitute for credible characterization in this Malaysian writer’s sluggish, awkward account of a man’s many...

A sultry first novel of betrayal, with an exotic setting (Malaya) and a WWII link. Could it be another English Patient? As a literary creation, no way; as raw material for a movie, maybe.

Who is Johnny Lim? Aw gives us three versions of the Chinese businessman, from three different narrators. To his son Jasper, he’s a monster, and not just because he’s a drug kingpin, the richest man in Malaya’s Kinta Valley. Item: Johnny murdered his first patron, Tiger Tan, to get his textile business. Item: Johnny replaced his father-in-law as the valley’s chief power-broker by injuring him in a fire he set himself. Item: In 1942, Johnny, a secret Communist commander, betrayed his fellow commanders, who were then massacred by the occupying Japanese. Curiously, we learn little about Johnny’s competence as a father, but we do know that Jasper’s mother, Snow, died giving birth to him. This young woman, a great beauty, is the second narrator. In 1941, she’s steeling herself to leave Johnny after only a year’s marriage; she finds him alien and unknowable, the qualities that originally attracted her. But Snow’s Johnny is no monster. The child of laborers, he’s in awe of the highborn Snow and barely touches her. The heart of her story is an ill-fated expedition the two make to the mysterious islands Seven Maidens. They’re accompanied by two Englishmen (one is Peter, an epicene aesthete and Johnny’s only friend) and a Japanese man, Mamoru, who will achieve his own notoriety as the Valley’s eventual administrator. Snow’s account is as evasive as Jasper’s was explicit. The third narrator is Peter. For him, Johnny is an innocent child, worried that he’ll lose Snow to Peter’s superior charms. Peter himself is far from innocent, a bitter, poisonous man who will indeed betray Johnny, though the friendship has been implausible from the get-go.

Atmospherics substitute for credible characterization in this Malaysian writer’s sluggish, awkward account of a man’s many selves.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-57322-300-X

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2005

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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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OF MICE AND MEN

Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed.

This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel." It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define.  Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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