cover image The Exquisite

The Exquisite

Laird Hunt, . . Coffee House, $14.95 (246pp) ISBN 978-1-56689-187-5

Shiftless and broke, thieving drifter Henry gets involved with a gang of faux assassins in Hunt's intensely cerebral third novel. Written in an intentionally mystifying fashion ("Falsification," says one character, "sits at the center of everything"), the novel, set in a shell-shocked post 9/11 Manhattan, alternates between two narratives: in one, Henry joins a group, led by the mysterious Mr. Kindt, that stages fake murders for money; in the other, Henry resides in a psychiatric hospital, where Mr. Kindt visits him daily and encourages him to earn money by stealing pharmaceuticals. In both story lines, Henry tries unsuccessfully to sort through layers of deception to learn about Kindt's past. It is possible that Henry's life as a fake hired gun is imagined during his hospital stay; it is equally possible that both lives are occurring simultaneously, as Hunt makes obfuscation one of his chief objectives. A wan love interest develops with tattoo artist Tulip (an echo of the hospital's Dr. Tulp), but it is mostly motivated by Henry's desire to discover why Tulip would want to "tussle" with him. This noir labyrinth captures the post-9/11 gestalt of anxiety and hopelessness. (Sept.)