cover image The Dimensions of a Cave

The Dimensions of a Cave

Greg Jackson. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (480p) ISBN 978-0-374-29849-4

Jackson’s inspired debut novel (after the collection Prodigals) recasts Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Plato’s allegory of the cave for the information age. After journalist Quentin Jones’s investigative piece about the U.S. government’s virtual reality interrogation program is spiked by his editor, he gets wind of a more ambitious iteration in which pacified citizens would play out their lives in “bespoke realities.” The idea of this technology, he tells his group of reporter buddies in a frame narrative that mirrors Conrad’s novella, has radically altered his perception of their profession and the nature of reality. Never sure whether he is following leads or being led into a trap, Quentin tracks down the program’s architects and learns that Bruce, one of their mentees, has entered, and perhaps lost himself in, this experimental simulation. The book’s characters, including government bureaucrats, warlords, and bohemian artists, tend to expound at length, their voices nearly indistinguishable but their tales florid and spellbinding—Bruce, the novel’s Kurtz, delivers a “horrific litany” of ancient torture techniques and modern-day genocides. Within the serpentine plot of journalistic tradecraft and government skullduggery, epigrammatic reflections abound: “Maybe consciousness is our way of condensing existence into a shareable form,” offers a computer scientist. It adds up to a timely and clear-eyed interrogation of the fictions that shield people from society’s blinding truths. Agent: Georges Borchardt, Georges Borchardt Inc. (Oct.)