A mysterious and frequently beautiful short novel by Unrue (Writing/Harvard; Life of a Star, 2010, etc.) pulls the reader into a sequence of heady, surreal vignettes that add up to more of a sensual experience than a coherent story.
A woman wanders through a strange hotel and an unnamed city, searching for a man or a child—in this novel, details and time are both often elusive—on behalf of a seductive and sinister couple who live on a luxurious estate. Hints of back story and plot come through, but the novel seems to be less about the pull of story and more about the power of atmosphere, feeling, and how perfectly chosen, lavishly described details can make the reader flesh out an enormous world in the space between them. “I was recalling information so ornately,” the woman says, and she does, remembering and describing in images that are full of color, texture and sensation. The voice of the novel comes from inside her head, with sentences that are often disjointed and rhythmically uncomfortable, jumping from thought to memory without concern for linear storyline or traditional structure. Some pages are empty except for a few words, transforming the turn of a page into a noticeable rhythmic event. Everything could exist in either a dream or a nightmare, and certain vignettes push the novel into the realm of the fantastical with snippets of other stories that feel like fairy tales. A man searches for his wife in a forest, unaware that the trees move of their own volition. A man watches his sons turn into wolves and murder a couple.
For the most part, the surreal and tenuously connected pieces of this novel build an intriguing and intense narrative of feeling, even if the story itself remains unclear.