In Paul La Farge’s The Night Ocean (Penguin, $27), Marina Willett’s husband, a famous-turned-infamous literary historian, has disappeared, seemingly a suicide case but maybe that’s just what he wants people to think. From this hook, the book’s tentacles spread into a kaleidoscopic series of investigations, as Marina double-checks her spouse’s leads to get to the bottom of a mysterious bit of H. P. Lovecraft apocrypha called “The Erotonomicon.” Cameos extend from Lovecraft to William Burroughs, Isaac Asimov, and more, becoming something like “The Savage Detectives of American weird fiction.” To follow this book’s incredible story, you don’t need to like, or even know, these figures, which are all fictionalized creations anyway, despite the author’s deep knowledge of their histories. La Farge critiques and parodies but does not romanticize these writers. He’s deeply attuned to how our human sympathies toward icons we learn about from afar can morph into blind obsession despite our best intentions. His narrative is a seamless combination of trickster humor and utter heartbreak, plumbing the depths to which people will go to forgive, embody, and take revenge upon their former idols, all while preserving their own reputation. The best writing lives inside you —even possesses you. The Night Ocean does just that.
The Night Ocean - Paul La Farge