Paul La Farge’s The Night Ocean is a puzzling, esoteric novel about a struggling writer and his wife in New York City told from the wife’s point of view after Charlie, the writer, mysteriously vanishes after spiraling into a sort of madness after investigating an obscure, possibly fake biography of HP Lovecraft telling of his relationship with teenage writer Robert Barlow in the 1930s. As Charlie then his wife Marina begin to peel away the layers of the alleged illicit pairing of Lovecraft and Barlow, nothing is what it seems and the validity of the tale is never to be fully trusted. Or is it? La Farge sometimes conjures the otherworldly mystery of Lovecraft’s prose mixed with a Rashomon level of contradiction of the truth. This is a story about the reality of fiction and also the fiction of our reality. It’s about perception, personality, the darkness of McCarthy-era witch hunting and the unspeakable shame of homosexuality in the past. I enjoyed the uniqueness of the story and admired how it jumped from eras and locations from Mexico City to Canada and included everyone from William Burroughs to Issac Asimov to Diego Rivera within its narrative, but ultimately I felt it a bit slow and redundant. There’s much here to recommend, though, as The Night Ocean is a fascinating, possibly true or most definitely not novel.
The Night Ocean available March 7, 2017.