A heady, inventive, fantastical novel about the nature of memory and the difficulty of confronting trauma.
by J. Robert Lennon
Graywolf Press, April 2021
An unnamed woman checks into a guesthouse in a mysterious district known only as the Subdivision. The guesthouse’s owners, Clara and the Judge, are welcoming and helpful, if oddly preoccupied by the perpetually baffling jigsaw puzzle in the living room. With little more than a hand-drawn map and vague memories of her troubled past, the narrator ventures out in search of a job, an apartment, and a fresh start in life. Accompanied by an unusually assertive digital assistant named Cylvia, the narrator is drawn deeper into an increasingly strange, surreal, and threatening world, which reveals itself to her through a series of darkly comic encounters reminiscent of Gulliver’s Travels. A lovelorn truck driver…a mysterious child…a watchful crow. A cryptic birthday party. A baffling physics experiment in a defunct office tower where some calamity once happened. Through it all, the narrator is tempted and manipulated by the bakemono, a shape-shifting demon who poses a distinctly terrifying danger. Harrowing, meticulous, and deranged, SUBDIVISION is a brilliant maze of a novel from the writer Kelly Link has called “a master of the dark arts.” With the narrative intensity and mordant humor familiar to readers of Broken River, J. Robert Lennon continues his exploration of the mysteries of perception and memory.
“An askew, uncanny―and consistently compelling―novel about memory, dislocation, and trauma. . . . [Lennon’s] tone is surreal and the result sometimes, à la Kafka, darkly funny. The novel features elements of the picaresque . . . , but it also has the everyday-suburban-made-strange-and-luminous quality of Steven Millhauser and the gleefully absurd, improvised feel of César Aira. . . . Sharp, inventive―and disorienting in all the good ways.”―Kirkus Reviews, starred review
J. Robert Lennon is the author of two story collections, Pieces for the Left Hand and See You in Paradise, and eight novels, including Mailman, Castle, Familiar, and Broken River. He holds an MFA from the University of Montana, and has published short fiction in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Playboy, Granta, The Paris Review, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. He has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. His book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Guardian, and The London Review of Books, and he lives in Ithaca, New York, where he teaches writing at Cornell University.