We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire


I started reading Lot 49 last night.  I’d picked the book up last year sometime but it sat on a shelf with a few others, too many other things to read.  But it’s a small book, and I picked it up and opened to the first page just to see if it would grab me.

Right away I liked it.  My first thought was that it was Molly Bloom from Ulysses transplanted to southern California, not only because of Oedipa’s personality (kind of loose, sensual, and married to someone with insecurities like Poldy’s) but because of the style.   Lots of stream of consciousness stuff, but also a lot of really beautiful lines, mixed in with slang and other earthy language.

It reminds me, too, of John Barth (the symbolic structure and the mythic energy of Giles Goat Boy) and early Vonnegut, especially Player Piano and Cat’s Cradle.  The satire is more like Vonnegut than Joyce, less obscure – but maybe that’s just because it takes place in America and I recognize more.  (Just looked Pynchon up, and found that both he and Vonnegut went to Cornell, where Nabokov was a lit professor at one time.)

Not something to emulate, maybe, but I love how quickly he builds his characterizations, with only a line or two.   “Mucho knew all about her and Pierce: it had ended a year before Mucho married her.  He read the letter and withdrew along a shy string of eyeblinks.”  Odd and wonderful.  And efficient.  I like the way he varies the texture of the writing, moving between short, direct sentences and long, winding passages.  His metaphors are rich and strange, too, and I like how he’s unexpectedly lyrical sometimes, like his prose is reaching for something transcendent at the same time his character is reaching for the same thing:

She could carry the sadness of the moment with her that way forever, see the world refracted through those tears, as if indices as yet unfound varied in important ways from cry to cry.  She had looked down at her feet and known, then, because of a painting, that what she stood on had only been woven together a couple thousand miles away in her own tower, was only by accident known as Mexico, and so Pierce had taken her away from nothing, there’d been no escape.

I love that.  Like he isn’t quite sure whether he’s writing a satire, or something deeper.  Or maybe it’s only that the reader isn’t sure.

About the author

Tom Howard

Tom Howard is the author of Fierce Pretty Things (Indiana University Press, 2019).

He received his MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Fierce Pretty Things won the 2018 Blue Light Books Fiction Prize, and his individual stories have won the Ninth Letter Literary Award in Fiction, the Indiana Review Fiction Prize, the Robert and Adele Schiff Award for Fiction, the Carve Magazine Prose & Poetry Contest, the Tobias Wolff Award in Fiction, the Innovative Short Fiction Prize, the Willow Springs Ficiton Prize, the Rash Award in Fiction, and the Robert J. DeMott Award for Short Prose.

He lives with his wife in Arlington, Virginia.

Add Comment

Leave a Reply

By Tom Howard


Get in touch

Feel free to follow me to get a follow back, and to say hello.

Follow me on Twitter

%d bloggers like this: