cover image The Alarming Palsy of James Orr

The Alarming Palsy of James Orr

Tom Lee. Soho, $25 (208p) ISBN 978-1-64129-004-3

In his astonishing and riveting debut novel, Lee (author of the collection Greenfly) delivers a taut story about a man’s loosening grip on reality. One morning, James Orr notices “some indefinable shift in the normal order of things” upon waking, then looks in the mirror to see that one side of his face has collapsed. Assured by the doctor that the nerve condition is temporary, James takes time off from his consultant job, spending his days in his suburban London neighborhood and wandering the surrounding woods, “an oasis and an anomaly amid the encroaching city.” The contrast between the orderly housing estate, with its “general air of parochialism and paranoia,” and the woods, with its Victorian ruins, wild parakeets, and rumored hermits, is as stark as the split in James’s face. His palsy lingering, James grows disturbed by his superfluity—to his company, neighbors, even to his wife and children—as well as by a sense of vague moral deficiency. Increasingly isolated, he sees his surroundings as a “brittle veneer on reality, one that might fracture or shatter entirely at any time.” Lee uses James’s crack-up to explore the disorienting effects of changes large and small, sudden and gradual, and the result is a perfectly calibrated absurdist novel that amuses and unnerves in equal measure. [em]Agent: Anna Stein, ICM Partners. (Jan.) [/em]