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Recent Reads

I added Dustin Long’s Icelander to my Amazon wish list after stumbling upon his Listmania entry on “Books that you might like.” The first two entries—Nabokov’s Pale Fire and Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman—provide much of the blueprint for Icelander, a postmodern satire of literary authorship in the guise of a murder mystery. The first third of the novel suffers from this tribute; the footnotes add little to the actual text, interrupting an already slow-building narrative. Once Long opts to rotate the narrative perspective, however, Icelander begins to take better shape, setting “Our Heroine” against a number of other voices, some (Blaise Duplain) more compelling than the protagonist. Unlike some of the other indebted literary devices, the rotating cast of narrators feels natural, allowing for smoother shifts between storylines and helping to establish the mythological framework for his imagined community. This section also builds momentum for the resolution of the murder mystery, which may actually be more successful than its postmodern frame narrative.

I hand it to Dustin Long for choosing difficult texts to emulate and managing to be largely successful in applying their modes to his project. Even though Icelander isn’t as pointedly funny as The Third Policeman or as structurally refined as Pale Fire, few books are. Icelander is a worthy read for fans of those authors, but I hope for a much-improved second novel, one not so dominated by the spot-the-allusion game. If you’re on the edge on whether Icelander worth checking out, the hardcover edition of Icelander has a nicely embossed dust jacket–free cover and shames most of its neighbors on my bookshelf. Take that, secondhand D. H. Lawrence hardcovers.

That note provides a nice transition to my other recent read, Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution, since its cover art was featured in Jay Ryan’s 100 Posters, 134 Squirrels: A Decade of Hot Dogs, Large Mammals, and Independent Rock, something I remembered when I saw it in the clearance section of Barnes and Noble. The Final Solution is about an elderly detective’s search for the missing parrot of a mute Jewish boy in 1944, but leaves many of its most successful themes simmering under the surface, foremost whether the detective is actually Sherlock Holmes. It’s a quick read and not as emotionally heavy as the title might suggest, but Chabon’s subtlety helps extent the book past its page count (131 including a handful of illustrations from Ryan).