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The Exquisiteby Laird Hunt
One review of Hunt's previous novel, Indiana, Indiana, claimed the book could stand some more risk-taking. In The Exquisite, Hunt seems to have taken that to heart. It is an unnerving and slightly spooky tale set in post-9/11 New York. Henry is the narrator of the story, though he seems to be telling two stories, one on top of the other or maybe one is a memory, the other taking place in the present. Hunt leaves that aspect vague, enticing me in by the weirdness in both stories. I found Henry's narrative funny but sad, and wondered why he was being drawn to these people who had the capability of hurting him. Hunt has written a compellingly odd novel, definitely worth reading.
Synopses & Reviews
Henry, a New Yorker left destitute by circumstance and obsession, is plucked from vagrancy by a shadowy outfit whose primary business is arranging for staged murders of anxiety-ridden clients unhinged by the events downtown and seeking to experience — and live through — their own carefully executed assassinations. When Henry joins this nefarious crew, which includes a beautiful blonde tattooist named Tulip, contortionist twins, and a woman referred to only as "the knockout," he becomes inextricably linked to its ringleader, the mysterious herring connoisseur Mr. Kindt, whose identity can be traced through twists and turns all the way back to the corpse depicted in Rembrandt's The Anatomy Lesson.
Mirrored by a concurrently running story set in a hospital where Henry and Mr. Kindt are patients attended to by a certain Dr. Tulp, the mysteries surrounding Mr. Kindt's past, Henry's fate, and murders both staged and real begin to unravel in the most extraordinary ways. Substantive, stylish, and darkly comic, The Exquisite is a skillful dissection of reality, human connection, and the very nature of existence.
"Shiftless and broke, thieving drifter Henry gets involved with a gang of faux assassins in Hunt's intensely cerebral third novel. Written in an intentionally mystifying fashion ('Falsification,' says one character, 'sits at the center of everything'), the novel, set in a shell-shocked post 9/11 Manhattan, alternates between two narratives: in one, Henry joins a group, led by the mysterious Mr. Kindt, that stages fake murders for money; in the other, Henry resides in a psychiatric hospital, where Mr. Kindt visits him daily and encourages him to earn money by stealing pharmaceuticals. In both story lines, Henry tries unsuccessfully to sort through layers of deception to learn about Kindt's past. It is possible that Henry's life as a fake hired gun is imagined during his hospital stay; it is equally possible that both lives are occurring simultaneously, as Hunt makes obfuscation one of his chief objectives. A wan love interest develops with tattoo artist Tulip (an echo of the hospital's Dr. Tulp), but it is mostly motivated by Henry's desire to discover why Tulip would want to 'tussle' with him. This noir labyrinth captures the post-9/11 gestalt of anxiety and hopelessness. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Strange, original, and utterly brilliant-Laird Hunt is one of the most talented young writers on the American scene today." Paul Auster
"Hunt's novels shimmer and shift like reflections on wind-stirred water. His third haunting, nonlinear tale is set in post-9/11 New York City....he result is an edgy and labyrinthine tale of longing, madness, and death." Booklist
"Bring your suspension of disbelief and negative capability on this wild literary trip." Library Journal
"Hunt's lapidary dialogue, sharp observation and penchant for enlivening character with a few deft strokes might be better showcased in a less meta-fictional straitjacket. An author to watch once he 'murders' his mentors." Kirkus Reviews
A spine-tingling, intricate tale of love, betrayal, and psychological gamesmanship in the wake of 9/11.
About the Author
Laird Hunt, former press officer at the United Nations and current faculty member at Denver University, is the author of Indiana, Indiana and The Impossibly, which was shortlisted for the Firecracker Alternative Book Award. His writing has been serialized in Fence, Conjunctions, and Ellipsis, and has appeared in several recent anthologies including 110 Stories: New York Writes after September 11.
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