Combining curiously disparate elements including radios, dogs, aliens and a religious cult, poet Lerman (Strange Life, 2014, etc.) pulls together a novel about a woman rediscovering how to find interest in her own life.
Laurie Perzin is a middle-aged bartender who lives in Queens and works long nights at Kennedy airport. She plods through an unremarkable, routine-bound life, having no close family and a well-honed skill of avoiding things she would prefer not to think about, including a strange childhood memory of a mysterious encounter with “the radioman.” When Laurie was 6, she met a featureless, shadowy figure while listening to her uncle’s homemade radio; after she spends years pretending the meeting was a dream, it sets off a sequence of strange events that drags Laurie into the company of a radio host, a psychic, an unusual dog and the leader of a religious cult that believes aliens—including Laurie’s radioman—are destined to bring humans to enlightenment. The novel begins slowly, indulging in numerous scenes of Laurie’s normal life that force the reader to accompany her through mundane commutes and dissatisfactions that fall flat as an effort to portray character and seem at odds with the many fascinating details that Lerman lavishes on radios and radio history. Once all the characters and elements come into place, the story picks up momentum and grows into its oddball components, though the only characters who develop a believable solidity are Laurie and a dog she acquires under strange circumstances and names Digitaria after a star that may or may not have alien connections.
Without a streamlined plot to push it along, Lerman’s novel feels torn between relishing the fun of its more outlandish components and clutching at an adult refusal of wonder.