cover image The Making of Incarnation

The Making of Incarnation

Tom McCarthy. Knopf, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-31987-1

McCarthy’s acclaimed previous novels all revealed a fascination with spatial diametrics and information theory, and the intricately calibrated latest (after Satin Island) soars even further from plot and character conventions with a study of motion, data, and trajectory. At the center of many looping narratives is Pantarey Motion Systems, whose chief engineer, Mark Phocan—who had a boyhood epiphany during a mishap at an exhibition of Joan Miró paintings where he first encountered camera playback technology—oversees the company’s various models comprising vectors and the measurement of bodies through all matter of space. Its interests include motion capture studios, various experiments with wind tunnels and water tanks, the course of an affair between Norwegian dignitaries, a mysterious client looking into the copyright of dance moves and, most prominently, the special effects department working on a science fiction movie called Incarnation. Crucial to Pantarey’s work are the boxes created by form-and-motion innovator Lillian Gilbreth to measure the pathway of workers through factories, one of which—Box 808—has gone missing. The search for the missing motion-map provides one more course through a series of set pieces that meditate on topics as diverse as the physics of space travel and the pathway of the bullet that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand. (There are also airplanes, astronauts, and Russian spies.) McCarthy arcs and zigzags through the parameters of contemporary fiction and achieves a brilliant new form. The whooshing, trawling result is the epitome of sui generis. (Nov.)