The sleep of reason produces monsters, said Goya—including monsters of architecture and history that meet, most uneasily, in the pages of Erickson’s (These Dreams of You, 2012, etc.) latest.
It’s a startling scenario, a kind of deus ex machina at the beginning instead of the end of a story: What would happen if, two decades after their collapse, the twin towers of the World Trade Center were to loom up in the South Dakota Badlands? Well, it being America, they turn into a tourist attraction made all the more alluring by the fact that there’s a presence up on the top floors of the southern building—a presence that just happens to be the revenant brother of another American icon. It would be a spoiler to get too much into specifics of that fellow’s identity and why on earth he happens to be inhabiting a building he never lived to see, but suffice it to say that with this book, perhaps his oddest yet, Erickson stakes a claim to be one of the most centrifugal writers at work today. Even then, he works his magic mostly by conjuring sci-fi–ish plotlines and then having characters move across them in more or less realistic ways: youngsters on their way to visit family on the coast are pulled down a dusty rabbit hole into a place that requires conversations on Adlai Stevenson, Elvis, the old folk song “Shenandoah,” Dealey Plaza, Churchill, Wounded Knee, RFK (“Was his big brother being metaphorical now? Ironic? Literary?”), and the whole swirl, for better and worse, of American history. Whatever is normal is upended, but it’s all oddly believable. Throughout, Erickson, a master of the mot juste, writes with archly elegant lyricism: “He heads toward a west that is the dreamer’s true north, where the desert comes looking for us and curls at the door, a wild animal made of our ashes….”
Think Philip K. Dick on smoother acid and with a more up-to-date soundtrack, and you’ve got something of this eminently strange, thoroughly excellent book.