Friday, March 24, 2017

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge


Book Nerd Spotlight

From the award-winning author and New Yorker contributor, a riveting novel about secrets and scandals, psychiatry and pulp fiction, inspired by the lives of H.P. Lovecraft and his circle.

Marina Willett, M.D., has a problem. Her husband, Charlie, has become obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft, in particular with one episode in the legendary horror writer's life: In the summer of 1934, the "old gent" lived for two months with a gay teenage fan named Robert Barlow, at Barlow's family home in central Florida. What were the two of them up to? Were they friends--or something more? Just when Charlie thinks he's solved the puzzle, a new scandal erupts, and he disappears. The police say it's suicide. Marina is a psychiatrist, and she doesn't believe them.

A tour-de-force of storytelling, The Night Ocean follows the lives of some extraordinary people: Lovecraft, the most influential American horror writer of the 20th century, whose stories continue to win new acolytes, even as his racist views provoke new critics; Barlow, a seminal scholar of Mexican culture who killed himself after being blackmailed for his homosexuality (and who collaborated with Lovecraft on the beautiful story The Night Ocean); his student, future Beat writer William S. Burroughs; and L.C. Spinks, a kindly Canadian appliance salesman and science-fiction fan -- the only person who knows the origins of The Erotonomicon, purported to be the intimate diary of Lovecraft himself.

As a heartbroken Marina follows her missing husband's trail in an attempt to learn the truth, the novel moves across the decades and along the length of the continent, from a remote Ontario town, through New York and Florida to Mexico City.

The Night Ocean is about love and deception -- about the way that stories earn our trust, and betray it. 


Praise for THE NIGHT OCEAN

“A beauty of a tale…A book full of pleasures…Dashing, playful and cleverly imagined, The Night Ocean emerges as an inexhaustible shaggy monster, part literary parody, part case study of the slipperiness of narrative and the seduction of a good story.”— D. T. Max, The New York Times Book Review

“The plot unfolds like a series of Russian nesting dolls, and thrillingly so: Like the best of Lovecraft, this novel questions the capacity of language to describe reality with accuracy…The Night Ocean proves to be more than a great read—it’s a timely meditation on the challenge of separating artist from art and the limits of human understanding.” —Chicago Review of Books

“[La Farge] carries it all off with breathtaking skill and panache.…[S]pare yourself the trouble of trying to divine what’s true and what’s fiction in “The Night Ocean” and just go along for the ride.”The Washington Post

“La Farge’s rabbit-hole mystery ranges from ancient cultures to modern chat rooms, but hangs together in one woman’s absorbing voice.” —New York Magazine, “8 New Books You Need to Read This March”

“With this intoxicating trip into the twin worlds of imagination and reality, La Farge gives new meaning to fan fiction in his exploration of the world of H.P. Lovecraft and the legacy he left behind.” —Newsweek

“This is a formally and emotionally limber novel that pulls you in as a black lake might, except that it’s also funny, and transformative, and illuminating—it’s a book of spells if I’ve ever read one.” –Lit Hub

“[La Farge] has surpassed himself. The Night Ocean is the ultimate crossing of the hazy boundary between reality and fantasy….A mighty boon to horror geeks like me who misspent a good portion of our youths reading the pulp fiction of Lovecraft and his unholy minions.” BookPage

“What a great book…Highly recommended but be prepared.” The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society

“Remarkable…The Night Ocean is a fabulous novel, in the quite literal meaning of that: it’s about tricksters and literary hoaxes and secret identities, but it’s really about the fables we make to construct, or discover, or invent ourselves, and about how much we can really get away with.” Locus

“This many-layered literary mystery is chockablock with surprise appearances.” —BBC.com, “Ten Books You Should Read in March”

“As we traverse a shifting narrative web that spans continents, decades, and spiritual dimensions, La Farge’s inventive and absorbing fifth novel reveals that questions relating to love and horror are not always mutually exclusive.” —Chronogram

“The universe of The Night Ocean is vast....In a complex, high-concept narrative littered with famous figures, La Farge leaves readers ever uncertain as to who’s telling the truth—and ready for the next twist.”—Elle

“Throughout, the novel wobbles between richly researched historical fact… and brilliantly imagined fiction. It will escape no reader that The Night Ocean is itself a work of passion, wordsmithery, and obsession — a kind of story within a story, if you will, of the sort that Lovecraft would have, well, loved.” —The Week

“Intricately constructed…His sure-handed world-building [and] empathy…suggest a circle of La Fargeans will someday soon emerge.” —Albert Mobilio, Bookforum

“Was H.P. Lovecraft, the great American horror writer, gay? That’s the question at the start of this ingenious, provocative work of alternative history from La Farge …Like Lovecraft’s ‘The Call of Cthulhu,’ the novel consists of several sub-narratives, ranging widely in time and place. But instead of a revelation about humanity’s diminished place in an impersonal universe, La Farge delivers insights into the human need to believe in stories and the nature of literary fame, while consistently upsetting readers’ expectations….[H]e outdoes his predecessors with this crafty mix of love, sex, and lies.” —Publishers Weekly, (starred review)

“The breadth of La Farge’s research and the specificity of his historical details are impressive: we enter the worlds of science-fiction fandom, internet trolls, literary hoaxes, and ancient Mexican civilizations as [he] deftly weaves in famous figures like H.P Lovecraft, Isaac Asimov, and William S. Burroughs. Only a virtuoso could pull off a story so intricately plotted and so full of big ideas about morality and truth…La Farge is this virtuoso, folding stories inside stories with ease…. An effortlessly memorable novel.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Magnificent. The Night Ocean is an impossible, irresistible novel, a love letter to the unloveable that speaks the unspeakable." Lev Grossman, author of the Magicians trilogy

“A whole damned hustling heart-broken double-talking meaning-haunted world it is a privilege to enter.”  Peter Straub

“Paul La Farge has crafted the perfect novel – a work that constantly twists into unexpected realms, that illuminates the nature of love and deception, and that is as funny as it is profound. The Night Ocean is a gift to readers.”  David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z

“The Night Ocean had me from the first sentence. This immensely original, elegantly written and continually surprising novel casts a spell that keeps us enthralled until the book's brilliant conclusion."  Francine Prose, author of Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932

"The best novel of the year, almost any year. Historical, hysterical, fanatically attuned to the nuances of language and character, its mission, in its own words, is to ‘begin the almost impossible work of loving the world.’ It succeeds and then some, but it does more than that. It opens the window and airs out our stuffy literature. It is a book of light and laughter."  Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story 

"The Night Ocean is straight up brilliant. That's no surprise since it's written by Paul La Farge, one of the smartest, wildest literary talents in the game today….A sly, witty, but still loving send-up of H.P. Lovecraft and some of the grand anxieties of the American 20th century."  Victor LaValle, author of The Ballad of Black Tom

“It has been years since I read a novel with so much joy, impatience and awe. The Night Ocean overflows with difficult love, not least of all that of our narrator, Marina, who indirectly reminds us of how we are pushed around by dreams, ghosts, chance, and history. I have long been a tremendous admirer of all of La Farge's work; this novel is my favorite.”  Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances

“This story delivers thrills, brews intrigue, and takes literature on a wild ride. The Night Ocean is genuinely fantastic.”  Samantha Hunt, author of Mr. Splitfoot

“An electric exploration of horror, obsession, madness, and mystery. A novel that tunnels deeper into the thorny caverns of the human heart than most dare. To read The Night Ocean is to be plunged under a scary smart, morally labyrinthine, and wickedly funny spell. Paul La Farge is one of the most exciting writers working today.”  Laura van den Berg, author of Find Me

EXCERPT
1.

My husband, Charlie Willett, disappeared from a psychiatric hospital in the Berkshires on January 7, 2012. I say disappeared because I don’t believe he’s dead, although that would be the reasonable conclusion. Charlie’s army jacket, jeans, shoes, socks, and underwear (though, strangely, not his shirt) were all found at the edge of Agawam Lake the day after he left the hospital. The police say Charlie’s footprints led to the edge of the lake, and nobody’s footprints led away. Even if Charlie could somehow have left the lake without leaving tracks, they say, it’s hard to see how he would have survived long enough to reach shelter. According to the National Weather Service, the overnight low temperature in Stockbridge was 15 degrees, and Charlie didn’t have an extra set of clothes: the girl who gave him a ride swears he wasn’t carrying anything. What’s more, no one denies that Charlie was suicidal. The last time I saw him, in Brooklyn, he told me he’d taken a handful of Ambien, just to see what would happen. What happened was, he slept for twelve hours, had a dizzy spell in the shower, and sprained his ankle. “My life is becoming a sad joke,” he said, “except there’s no one around to laugh at it.” He looked at me entreatingly. I told him there was nothing funny about an Ambien overdose. It could kill you, if you took it with another depressant. “Thanks, Miss Merck Manual,” Charlie said. “I’m still your wife,” I said, “and you’re scaring me. If you really want to hurt yourself, you should be in the hospital.” To my surprise, Charlie asked, “Which hospital?” I thought for a moment, then I told him about the place in the Berkshires.

Two days later, Charlie was on the bus to Stockbridge. He called me that evening. “I feel like I’m in high school again, Mar,” he said. “The food is terrible, and everybody’s on drugs. I nearly had a panic attack, trying to figure out who to sit with at dinner. Who are the cool kids in an insane asylum? The bulimics look great, but the bipolars make better conversation.” “Sounds like you’ll fit right in,” I said, and Charlie laughed. He sounded like himself, for the first time in months. What had he sounded like before that? Like himself, but falling down a well in slow motion: each time I saw him, his voice was fainter and somehow more echo-y. That’s something Charlie might have said; normally, I am more cautious with my descriptions. I have never heard anyone fall down a well. “Are you on drugs?” I asked. “I start tomorrow,” Charlie said. “Wanted to call you tonight, in case there’s anything you want to ask before they erase my mind.” “Don’t joke,” I said. I thought about it. “What’s your favorite nut?” I asked. “Oh, Mar,” he said, “you know the answer to that one.”

Charlie called again two days after that and told me they had him on 2 milligrams of risperidone—which was more than I would have given him, but never mind—and it made him woozy. “But the characters, Mar,” he said, “the characters!” He was taking notes in his ­journal, for an essay he planned to write about his downfall. “Take it easy,” I said. “If they think your journal is antisocial, they might confiscate it.” “I am,” Charlie said. “I’ve only got enough energy to write for, like, five minutes a day. The rest of the time I watch Lost on DVD.” He didn’t talk about his therapy, but I didn’t expect him to. We had always respected each other’s privacy. “How long are they going to keep you?” I asked. Charlie said, “They’re saying a couple of weeks.” I said I would visit as soon as I could, probably the next weekend. Then, afraid that Charlie would draw the wrong conclusion, I clarified: “I just want to know you’re all right, and that you aren’t making the doctors miserable.” Charlie said it was his job to make the doctors miserable. Then he said, “Just kidding. My job right now is to make a world I can live in.” I wondered if he’d picked that phrase up in therapy, and what dopey therapist could have fed it to him. What Charlie needed was exactly not to make a world. He needed to figure out how to live in the one that exists. All of that took probably two seconds. “I’m happy that you’re doing well,” I said, and Charlie said, “Thanks.” We hung up.

That was on January fifth. On the seventh, Charlie forced the lock on his door with a bit of plastic, climbed a cyclone fence, and hitched a ride with a Simon’s Rock student named Jessica Ng. He told her he was meeting friends at Monument Mountain, for an Orthodox Christmas celebration, and she, the fool, dropped him on the shoulder of Route 7. He waved, cheerfully, she said, and walked into the forest. It’s all in the police report. For the police, and Charlie’s mother, and more or less everyone else, the last sentence of the story will be written in the summer, when Agawam Lake warms up, and Charlie’s body rises to the surface. Only I do not believe he is dead.

This, you’ll tell me, is pure wish fulfillment. I feel guilty that I didn’t save Charlie from suicide, so I’ve constructed a fantasy in which his suicide didn’t happen. It’s possible. Just because I am a psychotherapist doesn’t mean that I’m immune to delusional thinking, and I do feel guilty. I lie awake wondering whether, if I’d acted differently, ­Charlie would still be here. If I hadn’t pushed him away in that last conversation; if I had been more patient, more understanding; if I hadn’t moved out when I learned about Lila. Or, I tell myself, because I was patient, was understanding, maybe my mistake was to keep my thoughts too much to myself. When Charlie came back from Mexico City with evidence of Robert Barlow’s miraculous survival, I could have told him the evidence didn’t add up. When he went to see ­Barlow—the person he thought was Barlow—I might have said what I felt, which was, that the story was too good to be true. Even though I know what Charlie would have said: “Mar, you’re being mistrustful. I know it’s hard for you to remember, but there are people out there who aren’t crazy.” And I would have sulked, because I hated when Charlie called me mistrustful. It made me feel small, and it wasn’t true. My real mistake, I tell myself, when midnight comes around, and I get out of bed to drink a glass of wine and listen to the BBC, my mistake was that I believed Charlie too much. Then I remind myself that I loved Charlie because he was so unbearably easy to believe.

Excerpted from The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge. Copyright © 2017 by Paul La Farge. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpt content from Penguin Random House.

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Author Spotlight
Photo Credit: Carol Shadford

Paul La Farge is the author of four novels: The Night Ocean (The Penguin Press, 2017); The Artist of the Missing (FSG, 1999), Haussmann, or the Distinction (FSG, 2001), and Luminous Airplanes (FSG, 2011); and a book of imaginary dreams, The Facts of Winter (McSweeney's Books, 2005). He is the grateful recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Bard Fiction Prize, and fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was a fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library in 2013-14. He lives in a subterranean ‘annex’ in upstate New York, where he is almost certainly up to no good.
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3 comments:

  1. Awesome opportunity. Wishing Mr. La Farge all the best success in the world.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I had a blessed childhood. So - all of it really.

    ReplyDelete
  3. When my mother read to us before we went to sleep !

    ReplyDelete