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MALAVITA

A smart fish-out-of-water conceit, but it’s a little ungainly, never quite settling on a tone with which to crack wise about...

Neither the witness protection program nor rural France can tame a Mafioso in this seriocomic romp.

A best-seller in Benacquista’s native France, this novel centers on Giovanni, a one-time mobster who’s escaped New Jersey with his wife, son and daughter after turning evidence against his former compatriots. Re-settling near Normandy, Giovanni, aka Fred, decides to sit down to write his memoirs, telling the neighbors he’s working on a book about World War II. But his cover is blown almost instantly; and not just because he’s largely ignorant about military tactics. He can’t help brandishing a hammer while negotiating with a plumber, and an invitation to discuss Goodfellas with the locals leads to an extended bit of oversharing that has his FBI minders in a panic. Benacquista is careful not to make this novel an outright farce—Fred’s wife, Maggie, takes on charity work as a response to the immorality she married into. But the story thrives on absurdities and coincidence, particularly in a virtuoso scene that shows how a casual utterance by Giovanni’s son travels from the school paper into the hands of mobsters eager to hunt down the family. Benacquista softens Giovanni’s character enough to court the reader’s sympathy for a coldblooded killer, but it’s never entirely clear if the author is gently sending up Mafia tropes or outright mocking them. The townspeople trade in plenty of anti-American stereotypes, and the climax satirizes action movie themes—thugs, bumbling authorities and all. The book takes its title from the name for the family dog (Italian for “lowlife”), but it’s clear who we ought to attach the name to. Likable but occasionally vicious, Giovanni is conflicted but not exactly nuanced.

A smart fish-out-of-water conceit, but it’s a little ungainly, never quite settling on a tone with which to crack wise about its wiseguys.

Pub Date: June 25, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-14-312385-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2013

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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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