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The Night Ocean
by Paul La Farge
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Marina Willett, M.D., has a problem. Her husband, Charlie, has become obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft, ...
From the award-winning author and New Yorker contributor, a riveting novel about secrets and scandals, psychiatry and pulp fiction, inspired by the lives of H.P. Lovecraft and his circle.
Marina Willett, M.D., has a problem. Her husband, Charlie, has become obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft, in particular with one episode in the legendary horror writer's life: In the summer of 1934, the "old gent" lived for two months with a gay teenage fan named Robert Barlow, at Barlow's family home in central Florida. What were the two of them up to? Were they friends--or something more? Just when Charlie thinks he's solved the puzzle, a new scandal erupts, and he disappears. The police say it's suicide. Marina is a psychiatrist, and she doesn't believe them.
A tour-de-force of storytelling, The Night Ocean follows the lives of some extraordinary people: Lovecraft, the most influential American horror writer of the 20th century, whose stories continue to win new acolytes, even as his racist views provoke new critics; Barlow, a seminal scholar of Mexican culture who killed himself after being blackmailed for his homosexuality (and who collaborated with Lovecraft on the beautiful story "The Night Ocean"); his student, future Beat writer William S. Burroughs; and L.C. Spinks, a kindly Canadian appliance salesman and science-fiction fan -- the only person who knows the origins of The Erotonomicon, purported to be the intimate diary of Lovecraft himself.
As a heartbroken Marina follows her missing husband's trail in an attempt to learn the truth, the novel moves across the decades and along the length of the continent, from a remote Ontario town, through New York and Florida to Mexico City. The Night Ocean is about love and deception -- about the way that stories earn our trust, and betray it.
Editorial ReviewAn Amazon Best Book of March 2017: I’ve never been mesmerized by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, but I was immediately spellbound by The Night Ocean, a novel that is, on the surface, about Lovecraft’s secrets but reveals far more about the dark power of stories on our belief in reality. As the book opens, the narrator’s husband has apparently committed suicide by drowning himself in a remote lake in the middle of winter. But the body has not yet been found, and Charlie’s suicide note quotes that of Lovecraft’s supposed lover, a man who either killed himself or deliberately vanished in Mexico City a half century before. As Mar, a psychiatrist, waits for the icy waters to warm and relax its grip on Charlie’s body, she retraces her husband’s investigation into the murky details of Lovecraft’s life, immersing herself in the long-buried truths—or lies, or something greater than truths or lies—about Lovecraft and his young protégé, Robert Barlow. Bit by bit, terse details escape about Mar’s fraying marriage and her husband’s Lovecraft obsession. In counterpoint, she offers full-color accounts of Lovecraft’s affair with Barlow and Barlow’s years in Mexico City. Stories bloom within stories, and soon, like Mar’s husband, you’ll find yourself unable to find the horizon between fact and fiction. Weird, unsettling in its acuity, and beautifully written, La Farge’s novel sways between an homage to fantastical fiction and an unwrapping of our too-human desires. --Adrian Liang, The Amazon Book Review
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