This debut novel follows the multifarious adventures of a doctor as he searches for whatever succor a mysterious Lost House in the New England woods may offer.
First-person narrator Dr. Kit Zeno is a Wesford, Massachusetts, pediatrician trying to keep his career going and save his foundering marriage. On the first point, he’s semi-successful; on the second, he’s not, and he’s heartbroken when his wife, Beryl, walks out, leaving him with their two daughters, Cassie and Ruby Jo. From there on, the book becomes an episodic grab bag. Readers meet the good doctor’s patients (and their parents) early on, and they meet the children again later, after they’re grown. These kids—Andy Cosmo, Dewy Diels, Monica Herdman, and others—turn out to be both brilliant and twisted; Andy, for example, is a computer genius—and also possibly guilty of matricide. Zeno has shady dealings with people performing studies at the pharmaceutical startup Tecche, including its seriously weird leader, Bucky Magnifico. There’s also Stan Trupeano, a local “old crank” rumored to be a mad scientist. Midway through the book, Zeno discovers the Lost House in the woods—a magical refuge. But will the story end, for Zeno, with salvation or with paradise lost? The protagonist and author share a name and a profession, which may give readers a rather blurred feeling: has the real Zeno had these adventures? Almost certainly not, but the author may be implying that we should all let our alter egos run loose. The Lost House is the only genuine magic in the book, but almost all the characters are beyond strange—either over the edge, or close to it. Zeno, like any classic hero, is searching not just for this Lost House, but for his true self and for peace. Ambition, though, is almost the undoing of Zeno, the author, as he can’t resist adding yet another character, yet another subplot, yet another flight of fancy. As a result, readers will quite often feel swamped.
A crowded but very impressive debut, especially for readers who like their fiction strange.