cover image State of Paradise

State of Paradise

Laura van den Berg. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-61220-7

Van den Berg (The Third Hotel) explores the unsettling new normal following an unspecified pandemic in her entrancing latest. The story takes place in Central Florida, where the unnamed narrator, a ghostwriter for an elusive thriller author, and her husband return to live with her mother. Both the narrator and her younger sister, who lives next door, have had the virus, referred to only as “the fever,” which causes surprising long-term effects (the sister’s eye color changes, and the narrator’s bellybutton converts to an “innie”). Dispatches from the husband’s long runs through the neighborhood include an episode in which a man on a bike inexplicitly slashes a truck’s tires while its owner sleeps in the cab. Meanwhile, the narrator’s sister forays into a virtual world called Mind’s Eye, which might be the cause of a rise in disappearances around town. The plot ramps up when the sister vanishes and the narrator’s search for her leads to revelations about the narrator’s employer and Mind’s Eye. In addition, Van den Berg develops stimulating metafictional connections to the material as the narrator attempts to write something of her own to document her relationship to the changing world. This off-kilter story is hard to forget. (July)