From Publishers Weekly
In this gorgeously written yet elusive book, sophomore novelist Sher (Gentlemen of Space
) chronicles a surreal road trip and uses the Singer Sewing Company as a metaphor for the erosion of America. In the early 1980s, Milton Menger, a wealthy art dealer, receives a phone call from an old friend, Charles Trembleman. Charles, a painter turned Singer salesman, badly burned his hands when the motel where he was staying caught fire, and he needs someone to drive him across his territory. So Charles and Milton embark on an odyssey across the South, staying in decaying motels, visiting Singer showrooms and inadvertently finding themselves in the shadow of Alsby Kennel, a nineteenth-century American painter of the Cumberland School they both admire. The pair also crosses paths with Jane Garnet, a fellow Singer agent and femme fatale. The novel's first two-thirds is spectacular and features a David Lynch–like creepiness enhanced by inventive prose, but Sher loses his footing in the third act as other motels burn down and the novel draws to a strangely inconsequential conclusion. Still, fans of offbeat stories and dazzling prose will find this novel inspired and inspiring. (Mar.)
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Back in college, Milton greatly admired painter Charles, but they’ve long been out of touch. Now a wealthy gallery owner, Milton is surprised to learn that Charles is a Singer sewing machine representative in the South, and that he’s been injured in a suspicious motel fire. Milton agrees to drive Charles around on his route, and fire seems to follow. Charles is an enigma, and Milton is beyond unreliable as a narrator, and may, in fact, be monstrous. As they travel back roads courting disaster, Sher patches together scraps of Civil War lore and the story of scandalous Isaac Singer and his world-altering sewing machine company. This is the sort of rich historical material Sher used to great effect in his lauded first novel, Gentlemen of Space (2003), but here it feels forced and overburdens a noirish plot. Yet there is power and mystery in Milton’s fear of the dark, the terrible beauty of the fires, the secretive landscape, the inexplicable violence. And Sher’s language is gorgeously combustible, his metaphysical approach to crimes and delusions deeply intriguing. --Donna Seaman