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THE TUNNEL

After 30 years of labor, Gass (Habitations of the Word, 1984, etc.) has brought forth a big, big book that sets off, with linguistic and intellectual bravura, to explore the dark corners of history and the psyche. But it never quite reaches its destination. William Kohler, a noted historian, has recently completed his ``Great Work''—The Guilt and Innocence of Hitler's Germany. All that remains to be written is the introduction, and yet as he sits in his chair he finds himself writing a personal history of life spent mostly in a chair: ``a domestic epic that took place entirely in the mind.'' Drawings, typographical whimsies, and scabrous limericks frequently interrupt this often dense text, which, like a drop of water seen under a microscope, teems with rich and intriguing life. As Kohler writes, he hides the pages from his wife within those of his official manuscript. And he also begins to dig a tunnel from his cellar, a place for ``concealment of history beneath my exposition of it.'' An aphorist, Kohler delivers the mots—bon and juste—at the speed of a stand-up comic, but their wit and insight conceal a sickness of the soul. Most people, including himself, Kohler asserts, belong to the ``Party of the Disappointed People,'' people who recognize ``that the loss has been caused in great part by others.'' Preoccupied with evil, the nature of truth, and the effects of an individual's relationship with others, he recalls his bookish childhood with a mother who drank to remember the ``good old days'' and a bigoted father; graduate work in prewar Germany, where he hurled a brick on Kristallnacht; his unhappy marriage; and the lost love of his life, Lou, a former student. Kohler's story exhibits the same inconsistencies and deceits he finds in history: Kohler, the personal memoirist, is, it seems, as unreliable as Kohler, the eminent historian. A virtuoso performance without a grand finale. But what a remarkable show.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 1995

ISBN: 0-679-43767-3

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1994

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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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