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THE EXQUISITE by Laird Hunt

THE EXQUISITE

By Laird Hunt

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 1-56689-187-6
Publisher: Coffee House

The namesake of a 17th-century thief helms a fake murder ring in New York’s East Village.

Henry, a young man whom the big city has chewed up and spit out, meets a tall Dutch-like beauty named Tulip, who leads him to Aris Kindt, who lifted his name from the cadaver subject of Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson. In homage to the late W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, Hunt (Indiana, Indiana, 2003, etc.) makes ekphrastic use of book and painting as templates for a danse macabre, a mannered gavotte featuring Kindt’s ersatz murder posse: a near-bionic woman known only as “knockout”; contortionist twins; a failed faux murderer named Anthony or Job; and Cornelius, Kindt’s henchman from way back, to a certain night on Lake Otsego. Against a backdrop of post-9/11 upheaval—black netting on windows is a leitmotif—present and past conflate. A hospital that houses homeless Henry after he’s hit by a florist’s van segues seamlessly into an institution for the criminally insane. Entranced by his new mentor’s courtly persona, his crackers and talismanic herring spread, his tales of the Dutch theft of New York and his air of soft-spoken menace, Henry quickly becomes chief “executioner,” and there are hints that one victim, Kindt’s accountant, may have actually died. Facts are provisional; only questions propel the plot. What are the origins of Kindt’s identity and prosperity? How will Kindt’s fake murder devolve into a real murder for which Henry is framed? Although the work deliberately subverts linearity and relies on a stylishly down-at-heels East Village for much of its resonance, Sebald-concordance and elegant gimmickry do the heavy lifting. Hunt’s lapidary dialogue, sharp observation and penchant for enlivening character with a few deft strokes might be better showcased in a less meta-fictional straitjacket.

An author to watch once he “murders” his mentors.