A many-layered literary mystery about identity, obsession, and science fiction.
Marina Willett’s husband, Charlie, is gone. After a scandal involving a book he’s written, Charlie leaves a mental hospital in the Berkshires and—presumably—walks into a lake to drown himself. But Marina, a psychologist, isn’t sure he’s really dead. For one thing, his body has never been discovered. For another, before his death, Charlie had become obsessed with an anthropologist named Robert Barlow—who Charlie believes faked his death after a scandal. And so begins the labyrinthine plot in which Marina narrates the back story of her marriage and explains how first Charlie and then she, once Charlie goes missing, became obsessed with an elderly Canadian who may or may not be Barlow in disguise. The analytical Marina is the ideal narrator to ground readers through the vertiginous narrative, which covers nearly 100 years and uses New York, Florida, Providence, and Canada as its backdrops. The breadth of La Farge's research and the specificity of his historical details are impressive: we enter the worlds of science-fiction fandom, internet trolls, literary hoaxes, and ancient Mexican civilizations as La Farge (Luminous Airplanes, 2011, etc.) deftly weaves in famous figures like H.P Lovecraft, Isaac Asimov, and William S. Burroughs. Only a virtuoso could pull off a story so intricately plotted and so full of big ideas about morality and truth and have the effect of not being ponderous. La Farge is this virtuoso, folding stories inside stories with ease. But even more important than the meticulous craft evident in each sentence is the depth that La Farge achieves in creating even minor characters. No matter how messy the moral choices, or how frustrating the character motivations, La Farge’s gift is such that we feel we understand these characters as well as we understand the people we see every day.
An effortlessly memorable novel.