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By Alex Austin
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
After the tragic drowning deaths of his two sons, Hugh Mcpherson retreats from society. Working as a English composition teacher, he attempts to withdraw within himself, contemplating the disaster that is his life. Nakamura Reality by Alex Austin also follows the whirlwind career of Kazuki Ono, the father of Hugh's ex-wife Setsuko. During the California leg of Kazuki's book tour, Hugh hides in the back of a crowd while Kazuki reads from his latest mind-bending novel Fingal's Cave.
A short time later, Hugh attempts to commit suicide by drowning himself in the Pacific Ocean. In the ocean, he thinks he sees his two sons. They give him a letter. As he tries to read it, it dissolves before him. The failed suicide provokes Hugh to go on a personal odyssey in a desperate quest to find his sons.
Despite the fascinating premise, Nakamura Reality left me confused and ultimately bored. Let me explain. The chapters in the novel alternate between Hugh and Kazuki. Added to this are excerpts from Kazuki's novel Fingal's Cave. The novel-within-a-novel gets interspersed in Kazuki's chapters. Novels about writers are neither new nor unique. The challenge is making the writing life exciting, or at very least compelling to the reader. Reading about a world famous writer scrolling down the page of his laptop is, well, kind of boring. On top of the fact that some excerpts from Fingal's Cave appear in haphazard fashion. I couldn't make heads or tails as to why these were even included in the novel. Whatever symbolic weight attributed to Fingal's Cave came across as a distraction from the novel's momentum.
Granted, this sounds like I'm trashing the novel. To be fair, it just didn't take for me. This is Alex Austin's first novel, so I'm going to be lenient in my overall rating. If you are into literary fiction and are up for a challenge, I would recommend Nakamura Reality. The bright side is Permanent Press knows how to cultivate its authors. They offer a nice spectrum of titles, ranging from by-the-numbers genre pieces and beautiful/confounding/unclassifiable literary works. With that in mind, I'd be curious about the next novel-length project from Alex Austin.
Out of 10/7.0, or 9.0 for fans of literary fiction up for a challenge.