A daring theatrical novel from Lopez (Good People, 2016, etc.), set in a kitchen, with only three characters.
Act I begins with a man and his wife (both unnamed) reading the newspaper at a table. Act II involves the man and his friend (also unnamed) drinking whiskey. Act III involves all three at dinner. They speak but often avoid matters at hand—or are any matters precisely at hand? Either way, no plot develops. Instead, each new remark, however mundane, leads to digressions, about slugs in the driveway or paraphilia or the country Georgia—expository/informational digressions that replicate the experience of clicking around Wikipedia articles. Yet how to explain the strange pull of this novel? It’s risk-taking work that, despite its realistic milieu, never approaches realism; nobody speaks in phrases that sound natural. Eventually a secret or two is revealed, and as the book rolls to its end, the work of Pinter comes to mind, with elliptical menace lurking in the corners. But despite the theatrical conceit, this is a novel, one that flirts with ideas of fiction writing. “Everything open to interpretation and misinterpretation,” Lopez writes at one point. Elsewhere: “The same thing all over again.” Then: “So what is another question.” Lopez is crafting the responses of critics, confident they’d be missing the point; through the banality, startling statements emerge, e.g., “Sometimes he cannot understand the woman he married.” In moments like this, the novel both embodies and reveals meaninglessness. The title phrase—a reference to submarine terminology—is revealing: “All back full.” Familiar words can seem strange together the longer you look at them.
Fans of Lopez will understand what he’s up to; others may be surprised to discover the novel, like a slug in the couple’s driveway, has inched its way into their heads and hearts.