In this metafictional novel, a writer creates and shatters fictional worlds, hoping to liberate himself.
In the book’s opening chapter, Muldoon, a professional writer, can’t get the nonsense word “Incognolio” out of his head, so he decides to make it the title of his new novel, allowing his subconscious mind to take over the storytelling. At the same time, Muldoon is a character in a story that someone else is writing—although the identity of that author keeps changing, as does Muldoon’s past and details of his present. At various points, for example, it’s revealed that he’s either concussed or mentally ill and that his twin sister died in utero, or he killed her on a Ferris wheel, or he’s sleeping with her, or he’s a character in her story. Subplots ramify and meanings twist; the term “Incognolio,” for instance, variously refers to a novel, a covert CIA investigation, a headband that removes free will, an illegal drug, a password, and “the spiritual quest of some alien race.” Twins appear in conjoined, good-and-evil, and incestuous forms and as a manifestation of humanity’s desire for unity with a lost whole. What begins with a leap of faith ends with what may be a leap of despair. Works of metafiction are open about their status as created literary works; rather than trying for realism or authenticity, metafictional novelists question those very concepts. This metafictional novel, however, is unusually about a man’s sincere quest to regain an authentic sense of self. Sussman (Crashing Eden, 2012, etc.) plays with notions of irrationality and reality in ways that can, at best, be very entertaining. He has a particular gift for nonsense words and striking images, such as a revolving graveyard that echoes a deadly Ferris wheel. But, as one character notes, “Time and again, we buy into the reality of a scene, only to be rudely reminded that the whole thing is contrived.” As a result, nothing is at stake, Muldoon’s choices don’t matter, and readers are left with only the author’s cleverness to appreciate.
An intriguing narrative exploration but one that’s not always satisfying.