Over the course of a prolific career, Everett (Assumption, 2011, etc.) has conditioned readers to expect the unexpected, but this novel is not only his most challenging to date, it sheds fresh light on his previous work.
The title would seem to suggest that this is a novel about the author by a fictitious pseudonym, but the main significance of “Percival Everett” is the dedication to the author’s father, who died in 2010 at the age of 77. And there is an unnamed character in the novel of that age, whose son is an artist. Or a doctor. And who has different names over the course of the novel. And who may in fact be writing the narrative about his father. Unless it is the father writing about the son. Or one of them is imagining what the other would write. Or, as the novel explains, “I’m an old man or his son writing an old man writing his son writing an old man.” Within that narrative labyrinth, the novel is much more than an academic exercise (the author is also a Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California), as it searches for the possibility of meaning in life as well as narrative and meditates on the process of aging and the inevitability of death. “This whole process of making a story, a story at all, well, it’s the edge of something, isn’t it? Forth and back and back of forth, it’s a constant shuttle movement, ostensibly looking to comply with some logic, someone’s logic, my logic, law, but subverting it the entire time,” writes the author (or someone). It’s audacious for such literary playfulness to engage such serious themes as meaning and mortality, but the novel proceeds to try the reader’s patience with some extraordinarily long sentences and dense chapters.
An ambitious novel in which the formalistic chances taken by the author are often stimulating and occasionally exasperating.