A satiric campus novel from an editor at the Atlantic.
Anna Brisker is a disappointment to her wealthy, status-obsessed parents and to her thesis adviser at Collegiate, who feels she's not taking her dissertation, "an intellectual history of inspiration," seriously. But when Anna unexpectedly crosses paths with Helen Langley, the disinherited niece of an author who famously stepped away from the limelight, she uncovers a way to finish her dissertation and show up her family. According to Helen, Freddy Langley didn't have writer's block prior to his death but continued writing long after he disappeared from public view. If Anna can access Freddy's notebooks, she could finish her dissertation and earn back the respect of her adviser. Soon, Anna is embroiled in a game of literary detection that's spurred, like all good detective stories, by a combination of curiosity, lust, and petty revenge. Does Helen actually have feelings for Anna, or is it all an act? Can Anna outwit the other Ph.D. student sniffing around her project? And is it ever possible to determine an author's intentions by reading the record they've left behind? In her debut novel, Lapidos writes a scathing come-up of academia and criticism, poking fun at Ivy League hangers-on and book critics alike. In Anna, Lapidos has created a dry and distant narrator with a penchant for Pop-Tarts and metacriticism. Although the novel is often wry and observant, the philosophical puzzle at the heart of the book feels hollow, with little at stake beyond inviting readers to judge characters designed to be harshly judged. Both Anna and Helen have the privilege to stand at a remove from art and critical production thanks to the intervention of family money. But ironic distance only takes criticism—and art—so far.
In this absurdist literary mystery, everyone's motives are suspect and open to interpretation.