In his most profound and accomplished book to date, acclaimed author Bruce Wagner breaks from Hollywood culture with a novel of exceptional literary dimension and searing emotional depth.
Joan Herlihy is a semi-successful architect grasping at the illustrious commission that will catapult her to international renown, glossy décor magazines, and the luxe condo designs of Meier, Koolhaas, and Hadid: the incestuous cult of contemporary Starchitects. Unexpectedly, she finds her Venice Beach firm on the short list for a coveted private memorial -- a Napa billionaire's vanity tribute to relatives killed in the Christmas tsunami -- with life-changing consequences. Her brother Chester clings to a failing career as a location scout before suffering an accidental injury resulting from an outrageous prank; the tragicomic repercussions lead him through a maze of addiction, delusion, paranoia -- and ultimately, transcendence.
Virtually abandoned by her family, the indomitable Marjorie Herlihy -- mother, widow, and dreamer -- falls prey to a confidence scheme dizzying in its sadism and complexity. And unbeknownst to Marj and her children, the father who disappeared decades ago is alive and well nearby, recently in the local news for reasons that will prove to be both his redemption and his undoing. Spiraling toward catastrophe, separate lives collide as family members make a valiant attempt to reunite and create an enduring legacy. To rewrite a ruined American dream.
Deeply compassionate and violently irreverent, Memorial is a testament to faith and forgiveness, and a luminous tribute to spirituality in the twenty-first century. With an unflagging eye on a society ruptured by natural and unnatural disaster, and an insatiable love for humanity, Wagner delivers a masterpiece.
Like Wagner's previous books, Memorial is set in a Los Angeles descended from Nathaniel West's and Joan Didion's but played for laughs as well as existential dread. It's an L.A. novel the way Short Cuts and Crash are L.A. movies: a set of loosely connected stories rather than a tight single narrative. Like Wagner's other books, too, it refers frequently-compulsively, even-to celebrities and includes passages of breathtaking viciousness about some of them. But because the heroine (and authorial stand-in), Joan Herlihy, is a high-end architect angling for a commission to design a billionaire's memorial to two American victims of the 2004 tsunami, the insidery trash talk is mainly about the stars of architecture and art. Richard Meier resembles "a well-heeled dentist, the type with something questionable on his hard drive," Daniel Libeskind is "a relentless pussywhipped kike in python boots and a Yohji trench," and Zaha Hadid has an "unkempt Fat Actress kohl-smeared gypsy-soprano" look that works for her. Despite the customary Wagnerian savagery and ultra-knowingness, however, Memorial is also earnest and even life-affirming, more like I'll Let You Go (2002) than his purely comic novels. The main characters are the members of an ordinary middle-class family-Joan, her feckless older brother, their sweet mother and sweet runaway father. Three of the four are spectacularly victimized, but every one is also the recipient of a financial windfall, and achieves redemption-which amounts either to slightly overdetermined coincidence, or karma. India is a major leitmotif in Memorial, and although Wagner satirizes InStyle Buddhism (like he did in 2003's Still Holding), he seems also to be taking Eastern religion seriously, as if to say: modern life is grotesque and funny as ever, but tenderness, honor and glimmers of wisdom are possible as well. Wagner is a very good writer, and Memorial is filled with beautifully observed turns of phrase ("a big-voltage desexed smile like a nun gone to rut"). His deconstruction of newscasters' special disingenuousness is virtuosic: "Wolf Blitzer talking about a plane that just went down... all necro'd out, breathy and methy and cockstiff for Death, a husky-voiced fratboy Peeper...." But the stylistic fanciness can also mask imprecision (an architectural design "grafting failed skinsketch onto gauzy somnambulist constructions"), and sometimes simply goes over the top-such as a 238-word-long sentence ("ambient absence, sounds and swellings, screams and shadows") about sex. His weakness for puns ("natal attractions," "Restoril in peace," "Hello, Dalai!") is... a weakness. But this is an ambitious, engaging, satisfying book. While his fans will find all the demonic intelligence and fun they expect, Memorial might also attract a new cohort of readers who want more than all-dark-comedy-all-the-time. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Simon & Schuster
September 04, 2006
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