cover image Telephone


Percival Everett. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (232p) ISBN 978-1-64445-022-2

Everett’s affecting if uneven latest (after the novel So Much Blue) is narrated by Zach Wells, a tenured “geologist-slash-paleobiologist” professor at a university in Los Angeles. Wells’s life is cushy yet dissatisfying—his marriage has stagnated, as has his passion for teaching. His sole source of joy comes from his 12-year-old daughter, Sarah, a precocious kid with a talent for chess. But soon Wells faces problems larger than his ennui: he is unsettled by a student’s infatuation, and a friendship with an “extremely young” assistant professor verges on romantic with an unexpected kiss. Back home, Sarah shows symptoms of epilepsy that are later diagnosed as symptoms of a rare terminal illness. While these plotlines alone would suffice for a novel, Everett throws in another, stranger twist. Wells discovers a slip of paper reading “Ayuadame” (help me in Spanish ) in the pocket of a jacket he’d ordered on eBay from a New Mexico merchant. Having decided to investigate, he uncovers a workshop staffed by kidnapped Mexican women and sets out to save them. The juggling act Everett must maintain to keep the book coherent leads to some unsatisfying and rushed conclusions, yet his greatest success is not in the story but in the portrait of a man pushed by grief toward irrationality. Despite its bumps, this is a spellbinding, heartbreaking tale. [em](May) [/em]