Burman (The Secret Game, 2016, etc.) pieces together the life of a reclusive poet in this satirical novel.
Roland Haller Paradise, a Pulitzer Prize–winning poet, Nobel laureate, MacArthur fellow, and author of verse novels that nobody reads, is missing. Following the mysterious arson-related death of an elderly John Doe in Paradise’s San Francisco loft, the famous poet vanished with barely a trace, leaving the police and media to speculate as to his whereabouts, motivations, and sanity. The chattering classes assume he must have committed the crime, and his book sales go through the roof as amateur sleuths attempt to find evidence in his work. Paradise himself, the mischievous narrator of this novel, recounts all of this with only mild interest. He’s always had a prodigious mind, and as a result, he’s always confused people. As the book amasses evidence via news reports, eyewitness accounts, literary excerpts, and anecdotes from the poet’s life, its real mystery turns out not to be who’s responsible for the corpse in the apartment but the true nature of the enigmatic, absent storyteller himself. Burman writes in an intricate, playful prose that brings his protagonist to life in all his lyric, bookish whimsy. With its postmodern flourishes and seemingly endless allusions to literary history, the author manages to evoke the imaginative classics of Flann O’Brien, Anthony Burgess, and David Markson. This is a meditation on the contradictions inherent to a life of the mind, and Burman presents a memorable hero who’s alternately comic and tragic, enlightening and infuriating. The story ends up in what’s perhaps a predictable place, but readers won’t close the book unsatisfied. It ultimately serves as a striking elegy for 20th-century literature and the bygone world in which it greatly mattered.
A truly enjoyable comic tale with an emotional core.