A debut work crammed with metatextual trickery, references to everything from Nabokov to Pynchon to Scandinavian mythology, and thickly ironic humor—a literary-gamesmanship machine kicked into overdrive.
Long’s first novel initially comes on like a murder mystery. Shirley MacGuffin had been editing a version of Hamlet, by Thomas Kyd, until she died—the day before Bean Day, a celebration honoring an adventurer who discovered the mythical Icelandic land of Vanaheim. Bean’s daughter, Our Heroine—really, her name is Our Heroine—charges herself with solving Shirley’s murder in the tourist-crammed town of New Cruiskeen, Penn., though she has to find her missing dog as well. Got all that? No matter. The book isn’t so much a mystery as it is a goof on the genre, and Shirley isn’t really a crucial character. (Hitchcock fans might have guessed that from Shirley’s surname.) It is structured as a “discovered” novel, with an editor inserting persnickety and increasingly unhinged footnotes (just like Pale Fire), has a middle section with interior monologues by individual characters (just like As I Lay Dying) and includes a handsome male sidekick for Our Heroine, who eventually explains it all in the final pages (just like in a potboiler thriller). And just like most postmodern novels, it’s exasperating and too clever by half—Long is so busy struggling to wade through a chin-high swamp of literary cataloguing that he has little energy left for anything resembling characterization, forcing the reader to keep track of a host of New Cruiskeen residents even while he asks you to reject conventional notions about plot. The book’s most interesting and comic characters, in fact, are two of its most minor—Wible & Pacheco, a Rosenkrantz-and-Guildenstern-like dynamic duo of pretentiousness who roam the town as self-styled “philosophical investigators.” The way the two get mocked for their pomposity suggests that Long knows how far off the deep end he’s gone. But while the willful goofiness makes it somewhat more penetrable, it doesn’t salvage it.
An overcooked, incoherent stew of references.