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PILOT IMPOSTOR by James Hannaham Kirkus Star


by James Hannaham

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-59376-701-3
Publisher: Soft Skull Press

A short, genre-bending book that interrogates themes including art, race, and doubt.

The cover of the third book from novelist Hannaham features a disquieting, arresting image: two airplane passengers bent over in their seats, hands clasped above their heads, as if bracing for impact. Early in the book, the author offers something of an explanation: “I have so many systems to monitor as I work; each aspect of the writing might as well be a knob or a dial on the console of an airplane….It’s as if I am a pilot without knowing anything about how to fly an airplane.” Hannaham’s book—not quite a novel, not quite a short story collection, not quite like anything else—is a clever series of reflections on art, doubt, race, and impostor syndrome. Written as a response to the poetry of Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa, the book mixes artwork with brief pieces that blur the line between prose and poetry, many focusing on aviation. In one section, a despondent pilot steers his own aircraft into the ocean; he still considers himself a “good person,” reasoning that his passengers’ families will get insurance payouts. Another section showcases Hannaham’s mordant humor: “Do I want to die in a plane crash? I can think of some good reasons to do so. It would bring more attention to this book. It was as if he knew, the reviewers would say, always eager for a prophet.” Hannaham can switch gears quickly from the tragic to the comic, and the ensuing whiplash the reader experiences is as fascinating as it is destabilizing. Each section of the book is beautifully executed in its own way, whether it’s about a pedophile who agonizingly fights his urges or a White police officer who pulls over a driver of color and recites the opening lines of famous poems at him. This book might be impossible to classify, but it’s easy to admire—Hannaham continues to be one of the country’s smartest and most surprising writers of fiction (or whatever this book actually is).

Unclassifiable, dizzying, and gorgeous.