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WHITE TEETH

There isn’t much of a plot here, the book being swept along by a series of sometimes hilarious, oft-times clever,...

An impressively witty satirical first novel, London-set, chronicling the experiences of two eccentric multiracial families during the last half of the 20th century.

When Archie Jones’s suicide attempt on New Year’s Day 1975 is stymied by a finicky butcher (who frowns upon such things taking place in a car parked illegally in front of his establishment, especially when he’s awaiting an early morning delivery), his life is changed forever. Lamenting the break up of his marriage, the distraught and disoriented Archie—a middle-aged Brit who fancies himself in the direct-mail business but actually spends his life folding papers—then wanders into an end-of-the-world party where he meets his next wife. Jamaican Clara Bowden is 19 to Archie’s 47, at six feet tall she towers over him, and she’s missing all her upper teeth, the result of a motorcycle mishap. Nonetheless, six weeks later the mismatched pair are married and living near Archie’s WWII buddy Samad Iqbal, a Bengali Muslim. And so begins Smith’s frenetic, riotous, unruly tale, which hops, skips, and jumps from one end of the century to the other while following the Jones and Iqbal broods. Archie and Clara have a daughter, Irie, whose name translates into ``no problem'' (although she has plenty of them); Samad, who is head waiter at an Indian restaurant, has twin sons, Millat and Magid. When they’re nine, their father separates the boys, sending Magid back to Bangladesh to be raised the old-fashioned way, far from the corruption of postwar London, filled with its mods and rockers and hippies and Englishmen and other bad influences—including Samad himself, who has been lusting after his twins’ schoolteacher.

There isn’t much of a plot here, the book being swept along by a series of sometimes hilarious, oft-times clever, occasionally tedious riffs on everything from race relations through eugenics and on to religion, but 25-year-old Smith is a marvelously talented writer with a wonderful ear for dialogue.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-50185-1

Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

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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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