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You're a Very Nosy Fellow, Kitty Cat

Eric Lundgren

There is something liberating about reading an unpublished author’s debut novel. The reader is free of the often oppressively voluminous pages of context that accompany a new release from an established writer. There is no need to situate the text in a larger mosaic, one in which the work in question shows itself as a lesser or greater piece whose eccentricities affect the revelation of the whole image. The text sits alone, separate, utterly itself.

Clearly a publisher takes a risk picking up a novel from an author who has written nothing else, someone who has no accolades or brooches of recognition on his lapel. The risk Overlook took in publishing Eric Lundgren’s The Facades will certainly pay off. This is an extraordinary novel, one that immediately sets itself apart from the rest of the fiction published in recent memory. It is a remarkable blend of neo-noir pulp and postmodern surrealism that is the successful product of Lundgren’s steadfast refusal to serve anything other than his fiction.

The Facades

by Eric Lundgren

The Overlook Press, September 2013

“I used to drive downtown every night, looking for my wife,” Sven Norberg says, and from the outset the stage is set. The first-person narrative is spoken through rays of smoky twilight shining between the bars of venetian blinds. Norberg’s wife, a renowned mezzo-soprano in the bizarrely distinguished opera scene of Trude, the fictional Midwestern city in which The Facades takes place, has disappeared without anything resembling a trace. Norberg, driven to desperation, refuses to let her go. “People didn’t just disappear, I thought at the time. They left fingerprints, receipts, echoes.” The novel follows Norberg’s search for Molly, a frustrating quest that contrasts starkly with his teenage son’s embrace of the religion preached by charismatic Pastor Bob Lilly.

Norberg’s search introduces him to a strange cast of supporting figures, each of whom is a testament to Lundgren’s creativity and descriptive skill. Their names (Jimenez, the Oracle, Boggs, Cassandra Clark) suggest Thomas Pynchon’s curious habit of giving his characters improbable and alliterative monikers. They are at once stock characters straight out of a film noir and personified non-sequiturs we might expect to find in Twin Peaks, Washington. They act with the unsettling, mystical confidence of devices who signify more than their appearances suggest, and whose uncanny apprehension grants them a muddled aura of importance. The Oracle, the quiet partner of Detective McCready, is reminiscent of Kyle McLachlan’s Special Agent Dale Cooper during his more metaphysical moments, and McCready himself looks like Detective Williams in Lynch’s Blue Velvet, a man who appears at once to be a detective from a Norman Rockwell painting and someone whose eyes betray a deeper, more sinister knowledge.

Lundgren has managed to recreate the precise pitch of the voiceover commonly found in film noir (e.g. Double Indemnity). Remarkably, he has done so without crossing over into the treacherous territory of sentimental melodrama. The novel’s tone is serious and wacky at the same time, a timbre that suits perfectly the juxtaposition of Trude, one of the great fictional cities I have had the pleasure of reading, and its surreal conflicts (one of the novel’s subplots is the siege of a band of militarized librarians) and the very real emotion of Norberg’s search. The bizarre interactions that populate the pages of The Facades do not diminish the novel because each of them, like the ending of Franz Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony,” speaks something unspeakable.

Lundgren reveals early in the text an acrostic code in a message Norberg reads. This reorients the reader’s attention toward a new dimension of legibility that the reader feels might contain some essential piece of information at any point in the ensuing pages. The reader, like Norberg, is conditioned to read significance into everything from the elaborately structured buildings and compounds from the mind of Trude’s famous mad architect Bernhard to the published words of a jealous music critic. Everything in The Facades becomes a potential sign to which we find ourselves clinging with the desperation of a man who has lost the love of his life. We are reminded here of the journey of Oedipa Maas, who finds herself following (or being followed by) the suddenly omnipresent symbol of a post-horn in Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49.

Lundgren, like Pynchon, or like David Foster Wallace in his debut novel The Broom of the System, refuses to reduce the almost unsustainable polyvalence of his novel’s mysteries to a single decisive precipitate. We find ourselves ascribing meaning in strange places to which the author has led us unbeknownst to ourselves. As the novel progresses Molly emerges as a lost figure of femininity much like Anna in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film L’avventura. She is gone and it is precisely because there is no readily apparent reason for her disappearance that we and Norberg burn for an answer, for some sort of explanation. The tragedy is not so much that she is gone, but that she is gone without a reason, without a story or narrative that assigns terms to her absence. She is just that—an absence, a lack around which the brilliant kaleidoscope of The Facades grows like an obfuscatory moss.

The search for an answer, for some theory to unite all of the disparate signs that seem to beg the apparition of a coherent constellation, is what characterizes works like Twin Peaks, The Crying of Lot 49, L’avventura, Double Indemnity, and Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, a film that I have so far neglected to mention. It is this latter film, which follows Jack Nicholson’s Jake Gittes as he tries to solve the mystery of the death of Hollis I. Mulwray, the chief engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, during a debilitating drought, that perhaps influenced The Facades the most. Lundgren’s novel finally lays bare the question that drives all of those texts, the question of Woman: What is she, where has she gone, and why? The Facades reveals the noir genre as the repeated performance of the search for the feminine and the subsequent construction of a narrative with which to understand her absence.

You simply have to read it. Refreshingly, Lundgren eschews almost totally the difficult, often annoying stylistic elements that usually characterize postmodern prose. I say that as someone who has a pretty high tolerance for that kind of stuff. But The Facades is unencumbered by vanity and the hollow flips and twists of the showoff. It is a beautifully written, honest, humble, and devastating novel. Read it.

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