From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The search for a stranger's history leads down a narrative cul-de-sac in Plimpton Prize–winner Ball's accomplished and clever second novel (after Samedi the Deafness
). When pamphleteer Selah Morse witnesses a taxi run down a young woman, he takes her to the hospital and, in telling the staff that he is her boyfriend and that her name is Mora Klein, is given custody of her. She is amnesiac, and his orders are to reconstruct her memories through story. The book then begins anew, and the narrative folds in upon itself again and again, launching in new directions and each time leaving the earlier story incomplete. Throughout, Morse searches out Mora Klein's identity, picking up other travelers along the way, among them a Coney Island mind reader; a doting husband who may or may not have made a deal with the devil; a love interest for Morse fascinated by the pamphleteer's opus; and a fiddle-playing dog. Though literal-minded readers may struggle to follow Morse's arc as the stories converge and he slips deeper into layers of story, Ball's skill with language and delight in comic absurdity make this an immensely enjoyable, brain-busting experience. (Feb.)
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In an inversion of the Scheherazade legend, the hero of this dizzyingly circuitous novel must tell stories all night to a beautiful amnesiac, to keep her awake and alive. He begins by explaining himself: he writes pamphlets (sample title: �An Inquiry into the Ultimate Utility of the Silly, as Prefigured in the Grave and Inhospitable�) and works as a municipal inspector, in an office reachable only by ladder. His stories dissolve, unfinished, into other stories; characters�including a �guess artist� who reads minds with a thirty-three-per-cent accuracy rate, a girl who accepts only written communications (preferably typed), and a spurned Russian empress who forces her former lover to marry �the ugliest of women��vanish and resurface; and reality is generally given the heave-ho. It�s a thrilling ride through an alternative New York (think Steven Millhauser on acid), where the tallest building extends hundreds of feet below ground and cabbies are paid in gold doubloons.
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