cover image The Book of Lies

The Book of Lies

Felice Picano. Alyson Books, $24.95 (423pp) ISBN 978-1-55583-541-5

Things are not what they seem in Picano's (Like People in History) novel of academic intrigue. In the early 21st century, Ross Ohrenstedt is an ambitious assistant professor at UCLA, researching the work of the legendary literary salon the Purple Circle (closely resembling the Violet Quill, a group Picano was involved in that included Edmund White, among others) for his doctoral thesis. While cataloguing the work of a Circle member, Ohrenstedt uncovers a mysterious manuscript that promises to be an academic breakthrough, and begins an increasingly obsessive quest to validate its source. New uncredited documents appear, and Ohrenstedt begins piecing together the life of their suspected author, the previously unrecognized Len Spurgeon--an enigmatic character with seemingly far-reaching influence over the Purple Circle members and their work. Self-consciously evoking Henry James, this tragicomedy of polite society is impressive in its thoroughly imagined detail, although sometimes gratuitous in its lavish descriptions of settings. With individual chapters focusing on various Purple Circle members, Picano is successful in his gossipy recreation of the group of gay literary innovators. In depicting the near future, his amusing assumptions demonstrate a keen tab on trends and the possible new technologies ahead. The surprises at the end keep the reader's head spinning. (Nov.)