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THE MONK DOWNSTAIRS

Sappy, sentimental, and painfully earnest: the sort of silliness that will appeal to anyone who has ever wept over Joseph...

The latest New Age soap opera from Farrington (Blues for Hannah, 1998, etc.) follows the perils and joys of a cloistered monk who moves to San Francisco.

Michael Christopher, the erstwhile Brother Jerome, has a lot of adjusting to do. For more than 20 years he was a monk of Our Lady of Bethany monastery in Mendocino County, California, working in the abbey’s vineyards and participating in the daily round of prayer, meditation, and silence. He had no trouble with the solitary life—in fact, he wanted more of it, feeling himself increasingly drawn to contemplation. Unfortunately his abbot disagreed, maintaining that he needed to undertake more active work in the vineyard and the abbey parish. So Mike finally washed his hands of the place and left, without any clear idea of what he was leaving for. He moved to San Francisco and rented a small apartment from Rebecca Martin, divorced mother of a six-year-old girl. Rebecca has her hands plenty full: She has a rambunctious daughter to look after, a genial but feckless ex-husband now facing jail time for his third drug bust, a geeky boyfriend who wants to marry her, an aggravating career as a graphic designer that allows her no time to paint, and a busybody mother who’s just had a stroke. She could, in other words, use some simplicity in her life. Mike, who has never had a bank account before and happily takes a job at McDonald’s, appeals to her in a strange way. He’s good with her kid, gets along with everybody, actually listens to what she says, and is pretty damned cute in his severe-haircut way. Mike feels the attraction as well. Can two middle-aged losers take on the world together? With faith, of course, you can move mountains.

Sappy, sentimental, and painfully earnest: the sort of silliness that will appeal to anyone who has ever wept over Joseph Campbell or Enya.

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-251785-6

Page Count: 280

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2002

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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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