Bushnell introduces one of the world’s most enigmatic writers in this metafictional debut novel.
Halycon Sage is a man of mystery, to the world and to himself. Halycon Sage is a pen name he pronounces “HAL-i-con,” which leads to plenty of confusion. The writer’s true identity is a source of continual speculation, much of which is spurred by misdirection placed in the media by his own editor. Another source of controversy: whether or not Sage is truly the Great American Novelist, especially considering his novels are generally no longer than a short paragraph and should not be considered novels at all. Contradictions surround Sage like the tumbleweeds of his youth: he is simultaneously famous, influential, anonymous, and poor. To get back to his roots, he embarks on a journey into the heart of America, riding atop his motel-sleeping, TV-watching horse, named No-Name Stupid. Attempting to find himself at the intersection of religion, ethnicity, and art, Sage encounters a menagerie of critics, thinkers, outlaws, and spies, all while hammering out his own oeuvre of iconoclastic minimalism. Is it genius? Is it nonsense? Sage may be the last person to know. Bushnell shares her hero’s compulsive brevity: the book is only 140 pages, though nearly every one of them is involved in the metafictional project of this “found” manuscript. It’s a madcap novel, leaping and lurching with a frenetic energy reminiscent of mid-1960s postmodernism. The satire is broad—a famous reviewer decides whether or not he likes new writers by using a dartboard—yet charming; the silliness is infectious, and Bushnell never pauses in any one place long enough for boredom to set in. Bushnell is an undeniable writer, with a talent for sentences and scenarios. “His urbanity was all surface,” she says of a critic who has just been discovered in the back of a limo and is now shrieking for oysters, “a thin, thin earth’s-crust over the red-hot lava of his petulance.” The mystery of Sage’s true identity is perhaps not as compelling as the story wishes it to be; in the end, though, it might not matter.
Intriguing, if imperfect, comic novel.