Ira Sher, Author . Houghton Mifflin Harcourt $24 (319p) ISBN 978-0-15-101413-2

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.)

Reviewed on: 10/13/2008
Release date: 03/01/2009
Genre: Fiction
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