A sober and memorable take on the American West: its opportunities for men to wage war against each other and the land and...

The lives of Gen. George Armstrong Custer, his wife, Libbie, and a 15-year-old Kansas farmer’s daughter converge in this historical novel about the American frontier.

Soli (The Last Good Paradise, 2016, etc.) writes of an angsty Gen. “Autie” Custer pushing into the American West in the post–Civil War era, looking to retain his glory in a new kind of battle. Soli’s braided narrative includes the historical figures of Custer and  Libbie and opens with Anne, a fictional 15-year-old who was captured in an Indian raid on her Kansas homestead, where “it was necessary to work the fields with hoe in one hand and rifle in the other.” The frontier is rough, especially for women. Anne’s family is murdered, and she is held for years by the Cheyenne; Soli’s writing is unsentimental about life in captivity, where Anne is starved and raped. The book is written in alternating chapters told from the third-person perspectives of Anne, Libbie, and Autie. Both Anne's and Libbie’s lives are harmed by the ambitions and passions of men on both sides of the American/Indian conflict. Anne suffers at the hands of the Cheyenne, but as she bears children, she comes to identify with the Indian way of life. Early in her marriage, Libbie gets an “inkling that her savior might also be her tormentor,” but she's drawn to him. The Custers' is a marriage fraught with doubt and long periods of absence while Autie leads campaigns on the American frontier, and Libbie is filled with “constant, rational dread.” Autie is unquestioning of his duty but a man of impulses: “During the war he could have just as well fought for the Confederate cause; he had as many friends on both sides. Now he did not know why he fought the Indians, some of whom he also counted as friends, except that he was told to do so.” Anne prays for rescue, but when it comes, it brings more heartache and men who want to use her.

A sober and memorable take on the American West: its opportunities for men to wage war against each other and the land and the devastation the men’s ambition wrought upon women’s lives.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-24931-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018


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



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

Close Quickview