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DARLING GIRL

An affecting portrayal of an emotionally abandoned girl.

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In this debut novel, a child grows up under the shadow of her family’s dysfunction. 

When DG’s mother, Margaret, begins to leave home for extended hiatuses, the girl is far too young—only 5 years old—to understand why. Her father, Alcide Louis Pitre, blames it on her recurrent fatigue, and her grandpa chalks it up to extreme sensitivity: “Your mama, I think she just feels too much. Feels everything too much.” When Margaret is around, she seems to float in and out of a fuguelike trance, sometimes sleeping the entire day away, leaving DG to tend to her younger siblings. One day, she greets DG with warm affection but forgets her name, a moment heart-rendingly captured by Watkins. Alcide is a pipeliner, and as a result, the family moves often and broadly—Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, Australia, South Africa—and that peripatetic rootlessness only adds to DG’s feelings of dislocation. But over time, she starts to see evidence that her mother’s chronic mental illness isn’t the family’s real disease, which is her father’s despotism. A serial philanderer, he is also maniacally controlling, physically abusing Margaret. At a neighborhood party, he’s discovered having sex with a local’s wife and unashamedly laughs off the indiscretion. While he’s capable of great sweetness, he can mercurially shift in an instant. Margaret finally asserts herself and demands a divorce, but she’s infinitely forgiving and terrified to be alone. Disgusted by her father, DG plots with her mother to find a way to decisively liberate herself from the clenched grip of his cunning dominion.  Watkins relates the entire story from DG’s first-person perspective, masterfully capturing her shifting voice from early childhood to her teens. Still, the novel’s principal strength is its beautifully conceived characters: DG and her mom are both infinitely loving but deeply wounded, and Alcide is incorrigibly unpredictable, by turns a tyrant and a charmer: “The best way to describe him is like a lighthouse beacon. As long as you are in the warmth of his regard, it seems the best place to be. Safe and bright and beautiful. Outside of his regard, there might be monsters—cold, dark, scary.” The author’s writing is self-assured and nuanced, and even in DG’s youth one can detect her precocious intelligence. In addition, the cumbersome weight of the girl’s premature domestic obligations in the absence of a responsible parent is shatteringly depicted. On two occasions, Margaret summons DG to drive a vehicle illegally—in the second instance, to help break her out of a rest home. (Margaret even provides elaborate instructions on how to look older.) One minor criticism: DG’s siblings are resigned to the background, a largely mute supporting cast. Giving them more life and agency could have furnished a fuller perspective on the family’s emotional fragility as well as Margaret’s neurasthenic stupor. Nevertheless, this is a powerful drama that impressively manages to both haunt and inspire. 

An affecting portrayal of an emotionally abandoned girl. 

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73226-624-7

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Green Place Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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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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