Author: Paul La Farge
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review By: Shana
This book has gotten generally rave reviews from critics. I can appreciate the skill of La Farge, his prose is clear and he builds characters well, and there is a certain dexterity to his construction of this story within a story within a story. But overall, it just sort of left me cold.
In a somewhat convoluted nutshell, the story starts with the promisingly creepy disappearance of the narrator's writer husband. Her husband had voluntarily entered a hospital for some mental health issues, but he goes missing one night, apparently walking into a lake. The story then flashes back and she recounts how her husband researched and wrote a book about H. P. Lovecraft and his relationship (often thought to be mysterious and potentially romantic) with Robert Barlow. In telling this winding tale, it includes a book within the book, the flashback story of Barlow pre- and post-Lovecraft, and a flashback story of a character named Leo Spinks, before it returns to present day and follows Marina (the narrator) as she deals with her husband's disappearance.
While La Farge brings to bear ingenuity in the layered tale and excellent technique, I never found myself truly absorbed. First, I did not care much about any of the characters, which made it difficult to stay immersed in the story. Second, the circuitous route the story took was unexpected, but not in a good way--it never truly lived up to the atmospheric beginning. Last, the ending was interesting, but again felt sort of tacked on. It almost felt as if La Farge had a lot of ideas he wanted to cram in, but in the end it felt heavy on technical execution and light on a real emotional center.