It was fun to see the boyishly aging cops of CHiPs on the road again—and just about everybody hopes Mary and Rhoda will get together once more. But no reappearance could be more welcome than that of Thomas Berger’s fictional centenarian (and more), Jack Crabb, protagonist and, in his way, hero of the now-classic Little Big Man (1964), hands down the ne plus ultra among novels about the American Old West—until now, that is: for we—re about to learn that the resourceful Jack only pretended to die in an old-folks’ home at age 111 (thus eluding his avaricious ghostwriter), and that he survived to relate the comparably amazing adventures that came after his survival of the Battle of Little Big Horn. These occurred during Jack’s itinerant middle years in the several western territories (some not yet states) and abroad, and they include his intimate associations with such eminent and romantic figures as Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, Annie Oakley, and Buffalo Bill Cody—and, in a spectacularly hilarious chapter, England’s Queen Victoria. Jack’s Zelig-like penchant for showing up in key places at momentous times occasions vivid first-person accounts of events both ignoble (a farcical misadventure at a “mission school” where he works as a Cheyenne translator) and legendary (the novel’s major set-pieces: “The Gunfight That Never Happened at the O.K. Corral” and the story of the great Indian leader Sitting Bull’s sad fate). All is told in a vigorous colloquial voice whose earthy accents often echo perfectly the impertinent horse sense of Mark Twain (“The Catholics . . . us[e] Latin which nobody understands and therefore seems more like a language God would speak”) and plaintively lament both the white man’s rape of Native America and the ornery persistence with which people continue misunderstanding one another. This magnificent sequel ends with Jack’s teasing half-promise that he—ll live on even longer and tell the rest of his story. And why shouldn’t we believe him? Jack Crabb is already one of the immortals.

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-09844-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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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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