Marvelously detailed, often darkly funny, as informative as it is entertaining. Mallon may well be the 21st century’s...

Mallon extends his sharp-eyed fictional exegesis of real-life American politics (Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years, 2015, etc.) into George W. Bush’s second term.

His imaginary protagonists are Ross Weatherall, director of a branch of the National Endowment of the Arts and Humanities (Mallon’s make-believe mashup of the NEA and NEH), and Allie O’Connor, a National Security Council staffer hired by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to give the president her skeptical view of what Rumsfeld now considers the failing occupation of Iraq. Carefully controlled Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gamely supports staying the course, and several highly charged meetings show her and Rumsfeld maneuvering for position around their president’s abruptly shifting moods. Bush is gently but unsparingly portrayed—“In his way,” comments Henry Kissinger, “the sincerest man I’ve ever met….Which is to say…he’s a disaster.” As Allie grapples with the slow-moving disaster of Iraq, Ross is plunged into the immediate nightmare of Hurricane Katrina while working in New Orleans on an updated version of the old Works Progress Administration guidebook. His eyewitness view of the government’s wholly inadequate response (limned in restrained but still appalling detail by Mallon) turns this once-ardent Bushie against the administration; at the same time, Allie has come to the reluctant conclusion that however ill-advised the invasion was, it would be morally wrong to abandon the Iraqis. Their conflicted relationship is not quite as interesting as Mallon’s knowledgeable and diamond-hard portraits of actual Washington insiders across the political spectrum, from showboating John Edwards (Mallon’s most acid character sketch) to tough-as-nails Barbara Bush (no sweet little old lady in pearls here). Nonetheless, the fact that Ross and Allie change their views based on experiences on the ground makes a refreshing—and one suspects deliberate—contrast with the dug-in positions of today’s political partisans. A rueful 2013 epilogue reunites Ross with Bush, who has discovered through painting “a whole world of in-between.”

Marvelously detailed, often darkly funny, as informative as it is entertaining. Mallon may well be the 21st century’s Anthony Trollope.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-87106-5

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018


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

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