THE THIRD HOTEL by Laura van den Berg


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Grappling with the sudden death of her husband, a new widow floats through the streets of Havana—where she seems to see him everywhere.

Clare arrives in Havana for the annual Festival of New Latin American Cinema alone; her husband, Richard, a scholar of horror films, was supposed to attend—he had been particularly interested in a film called Revolución Zombi—but he can’t, because he’s dead. Five weeks earlier, he was killed in a hit-and-run in New Scotland, outside of Albany, New York, his book unfinished. “As a married couple, they’d had perfect years and they’d had shit years,” van den Berg (Find Me, 2015, etc.) writes, “but she had never in her life experienced a year that so thoroughly dismantled her with confusion.” They’d become unknowable to each other in the months before Richard's death. “ 'Who are you?' they seemed to always be whispering to each other, in this peculiar middle passage of their lives. 'What are you becoming?'" The night before he died, he’d said they needed to talk, but then he died, so they never did. And then, outside the Museum of the Revolution in Havana, she sees him: Richard, in a suit she’s never seen, staring up at the sky. She follows him through the city: buying mangoes from a fruit cart, reading the paper at a cafe. In this surreal dreamscape, Clare’s past blends with her present as she reflects backward, recounting her childhood in Florida, where her parents managed a hotel; her career as an elevator technologies Midwest sales rep; her father's death; her relationship with her husband, which is still unfolding in the present; and her own role in his strange and sudden death. Laced through with sharp insights—not just on marriage and grief, but also on the pull of travel and the dynamics of horror movies—the layers of the novel fit together so seamlessly they’re almost Escher-esque. The line between the real and the imagined is forever blurry, and the result of all that ambiguity is both moving and unsettling.

Gorgeously haunting and wholly original; a novel that rewards patience.

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-374-16835-3
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2018


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