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A hubristic writer sets off on a dangerous course with forces much greater than himself in this metafictional thriller.

Denver, 2021. Sean McNabb firmly believes this is the greatest day of his life. Chicago publisher Octagon sends the marketing consultant and aspiring author a plane ticket. Sean is certain that this is a sign that Octagon has accepted his book, The Cursed Man. The novel follows the life and times of Darrington Circe, a hyperdisciplined yet anonymous man who begins to see phantom crosshairs appear on the bodies of people who are about to die in various accidental ways. Sean travels to Chicago with a confidence that borders on egotism: “My novel will sell well in the heartland. I know the Midwest, and I know my novel. The big advance is understandable, as are the royalties that will come cascading in, sweetening my world with caviar…and young women with supple breasts to die for.” But when he arrives, he realizes he has been summoned for a different reason. He is one of 16 novelists who submitted manuscripts to Octagon that contained the same passage word for word: a paragraphlong description of an apocalyptic landscape. All 16 have been summoned to Chicago to get to the bottom of the common paragraph, and though they are not able to, Sean leaves more than a little intrigued. He takes with him the manuscript of one of his fellow rejected novelists, a dying woman who assures him her SF tale is a true vision of the future. She instructs him to “read it and tell the truth contained in here.” In alternating chapters, Sean and his fictional alter ego investigate their respective mysteries that nevertheless seem to lead to the same place: an endgame scenario that has been a lifetime in the making.

Metteer’s (One Summer Season, 2016) prose deftly replicates the methodical, if slightly unreliable, voice of his protagonist, a man who is dependably precise and dramatic: “I make the shower as hot as I can stand it. I let the warmth melt away whatever possessed me. It’s my slow resurrection. The shower is followed by a shave, a 10-minute ordeal as the razor rakes away the last sign of my descent into mental hell.” But Sean is a patently off-putting narrator: a racist, misogynist, and narcissist consumed with getting even with those who have doubted him—his father, Big Mike, most of all—and who keeps a detailed diary of his sexual conquests. While the author attempts to redeem Sean as time goes on, it proves to be an impossible task. Metteer sets up a number of intriguing mysteries, particularly in the first 50 pages. Unfortunately, the toggling between Sean’s adventures and those of his fictional creation becomes more tedious than elucidating. One can imagine the Chuck Palahniuk–style mind-bender that the author was envisioning, but the pieces here just don’t quite come together, and the intended message becomes increasingly muddled.

A flashy but jumbled tale about a man and his novel.

Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
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