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Boast’s story is rooted in myth. But it’s his perceptive take on the risks of emotion that the reader will remember.

Psychology and myth twist into each other in this debut novel about vulnerability and fear.

Boast (Epilogue, 2014, etc.) writes about Daphne, who isolates herself from most other people by choice and strict routine. While her mythical namesake turns into a Laurel tree to avoid Apollo’s pursuit, this Daphne “explode[s] into lush forest,” freezing when she feels anything too intense. Her rare, unnamed condition means she absorbs powerful emotions around her, and her own feelings are paralytic: “I couldn’t move at all,” she says, recounting her first episode. Doctors postulate that her “immune system [is] blasting away at receptors in that mysterious part of the brain where muscle control, emotion, and sleep intersect.” Daphne’s adult life becomes about “at least, surviving,” avoiding feelings and seizurelike episodes. Romance is dangerous. Even books and movies can send her into a trance. In clipped sentences, Daphne narrates her daily routine: support group; work at a research center that tests medical devices on dogs; public transportation; and isolation. When she meets Ollie, an empathetic could-be suitor, she’s forced to confront her own idea that life would be easier “if only we could all stay a mystery to one another.” Ollie’s attention tests the lengths to which she’ll allow herself to get hurt. Boast leads Daphne—and the reader—through many of the Bay Area’s corners of art and culture. Daphne’s “fluttering and slumping” that result from emotion are one thing, but her real fear? “I’d twisted and twined and bound myself up inside,” she says, “to avoid death.” “When you insulate yourself against disaster, you’re always waiting for it to arrive.”

Boast’s story is rooted in myth. But it’s his perceptive take on the risks of emotion that the reader will remember.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63149-303-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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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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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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