thu, 26-apr-2007, 18:00



Last night I finished Icelander, Dustin Long's debut novel published by McSweeney's Rectangulars imprint. I'm not sure exactly what “Rectangulars” is supposed to be, but it's a beautifully produced book. The pages are thick, sewn into the binding, and the cover art is quite striking. I also have Yannick Murphy's Here They Come which also has the Rectangulars sticker on it and it looks to be of equal quality. I commented about this in my post about What Is the What in March, but I'll say it again: it's nice to see a publisher that's taking the time to produce a high quality hardcover for $22, rather than a paperback in hard covers.

But, enough about the physical object. The book is a hilarious detective story that takes place in a fictional city in Upstate New Uruk and involves literary forgeries, the origins of Hamlet, Norse mythology, conversations in mead halls and bars, swordplay in steam tunnels, and an underground fox warrior clan known as the Refurserkir. I really enjoyed the book, more than any book I've read in quite some time. I've read a lot of great fiction and non-fiction in the last few months, but this one was a great mix of fun and intellect. Dustin Long commented on the book in an interview:

I want to be an entertaining writer. But I also want to be a serious writer. I don't think these desires are incompatible. I hope I managed not to be tedious in the more literary aspects and not to fall into egocentric navel-gazing in the more “personal drama” based portions of the story, but whatever success I had was largely instinctual.

He certainly succeeded. The book contains several sections, with different narrators, and the whole thing is “edited” by another character (possibly one of the characters in the narrative, it's not clear after a single reading) who inserts footnotes questioning the accuracy of parts of the story. So it's another example of post-modern metafiction, but rather than being to smart for it's own good, or bogging down in the “meta-” aspects of the form, it moves smoothly through the story.

It's also a very intellectual book that rewards careful reading. Here's an example from page 145, narrated by a jealous husband while his wife manages the construction of her Two-Story House (another play on words):

On the upper level, Jon Ymirson—bare-chested in the unseasonal humidity of late March—swings a hammer, driving nails into wood, affixing one plank to another. Jack stud, king stud. He is constructing the frame of what will become a doorway.

If you're familiar with construction you know that jack studs are the members that support the door or window header and the king studs are boards that sit next to the jack studs and reach all the way from the floor to the ceiling. But the section also works as commentary by a jealous husband about Jon as a stud—shirtless and manly. The book is filled with clever plays on words and ideas like this one.

Icelander might not be a great book of ideas like The Children's Hospital or quite as meaningful as The Road or What Is the What, but it's a great time.

tags: books  review 
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