An open-ended, postmodern fable that somehow delivers the satisfaction of the novelistic conventions it subverts.
For a narrative that defies the usual notions of plausibility, cause and effect, beginning and end—and leaves readers wondering what the title might have to do with the plot until the conclusion (or lack thereof)—the latest from LaFarge (The Artist of the Missing, 1999, etc.) is a page-turning pleasure. Here is what the novel is “about”: The narrator is a San Francisco computer programmer in his 30s, who refers to twin sisters (named Marie Celeste and Celeste Marie) as his mothers, who never knew his late father but must reconcile conflicting stories about him, and who travels to upstate New York following the death of his grandfather to sort through the estate. While there, he becomes reunited with a Turkish brother and sister whose neighboring ski lodge sparked a family feud, and he resumes his infatuation with the sister. He describes her as like “a fictional character or really like several fictional characters, none of whom could know anything about the others.” Before embracing the future of computers, the narrator was a graduate student in history, specializing in an apocalyptic sect from the mid 19th century, leaving Stanford without finishing his doctoral dissertation because he’d lost faith in history’s meaning or purpose. As one of his mothers tells him, “It was the kind of story you wouldn’t understand until it was finished, which was, she said, true of all stories.” Yet by the time readers reach the point where the narrator is composing this narrative—a past that is very much present—the book has achieved a momentum that extends beyond its conclusion (and continues at luminousairplanes.com, which refers to the text as a “hyperromance”).
Where so much experimental fiction seems pessimistic or even cynical about its possibilities, this novel sustains a spirit of innocence and wonder.