cover image Asymmetry


Lisa Halliday. Simon & Schuster, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5011-6676-1

Halliday, recipient of a 2017 Whiting Award, crafts a stellar and inventive debut, a puzzle of seemingly incongruous pieces that, in the end, fit together perfectly. In the early aughts, young NYC book editor Alice embarks on an affair with Ezra, a surprisingly kind older novelist. As the American military conflict in Iraq escalates, Alice and Ezra flit into and out of each other lives, bonding over the Red Sox, Scrabble, and Ezra’s failure to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. After a health scare lands Ezra in the hospital, Alice must decide the future of their relationship. The second, decidedly different section follows Amar, an Iraqi-American of complicated provenance who has been detained at Heathrow Airport on his way to Iraq. Alternating between the customs official’s curt interrogation of Amar and flashbacks to his life in America, the sequence draws the background violence of the earlier section violently into the foreground without sacrificing any of the former’s momentum or humor. A singular collision of forms, tones, and arguments, the novel provides frequent delights and never explains too much. Any reader who values innovative fiction should treasure this. Agent: Chris Parris-Lamb, Gernert Company. (Feb.)