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SPRING GARDEN

An elegant story that is in many ways more reminiscent of Mishima and Akutagawa than many contemporary Japanese writers.

Atmospheric, meditative story of memory and loss in a gentrifying Tokyo neighborhood.

There’s not much room for gardens in the older districts of Tokyo, where concrete has long covered up fields and streams. In one spot, sold by a farmer long ago for development, block after block of apartment buildings sprouted in the postwar era, each named after a sign in the Japanese zodiac. Taro, divorced for three years and still not used to it, still grieving the death of his father on top of that, is almost alone in the urban wasteland that Shibasaki constructs; the only neighbors he’s aware of are an old woman he calls Mrs. Snake, after the apartment building in which she lives, and Nishi, a comic book artist. All are being pushed out of their homes, which are slated to be razed once the last inhabitants are gone. But what of the secret treasure at the heart of the nondescript district, one of “the sort of grand, Western-style mansions that had sprung up in certain areas of Japan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries”? Painted sky blue, with a pyramidal roof, it fascinates Nishi, who wonders who might have lived there. In time, Taro and Mrs. Snake come to see the sky-blue house as an anchor, even as their personal histories begin to unfold: Mrs. Snake, for instance, is now old, but when she was young, “she had been to see the Beatles playing the Budokan.” Ancient history, that, as is the unexploded bomb that disrupts the life of a nearby Tokyo neighborhood, prompting Taro to reflect that “the bomb was probably the same age as his father, and Mrs Snake too.” Just as the things of the surface belong on the surface, Shibasaki seems to be saying, so, too, are subterranean things—and memories, and secrets, and private artifacts—sometimes better left hidden, as her ending, steeped in foreboding silence, suggests.

An elegant story that is in many ways more reminiscent of Mishima and Akutagawa than many contemporary Japanese writers.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-78227-270-0

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Pushkin Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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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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