At first The Last American Novel glides you along like a summer read – a mysterious visitor, a forbidden flirtation, a quiet curious death on a small Maine island, a traditional fishing village and burgeoning summer retreat for writers, artists, and agents of the ruling class. The narrator, Ian Sippsac, is a 20-year-old genius and the embodiment of his generation – restless, funny, offensive, and tender – a recent college graduate working on the island mail boat while weighing a future in a damaged world he might not be able to navigate but is determined to expose.
Ian becomes infatuated with a beautiful enigmatic 35-year-old, one of three editors on retreat to decide the final book to be published by a famed and dying American publishing house. When the celebrity daughter of the publisher drowns on the grounds of her summer estate, Ian is drawn into a murder investigation that reaches into the world of contemporary art, national politics, and international commerce before careening back into the buried secrets of his island home, his family’s past, and his own identity.
WHY READ THE LAST AMERICAN NOVEL?
"Because it's different. Or at least it's trying. Too much of today's fiction is like mime, these contortions over peeling an invisible banana, this struggling inside a box that isn't there.
"The smallness and sameness of too many novels is the smallness and sameness that afflicts our culture overall--the relentless modern headlock--and it's this same smallness and sameness, this outsourcing of human identity to 'global' convention, that is at the root of my narrator's perplexing (and, I hope, moving and funny) mental condition." - Ronn Howland
"Books shouldn't be printed television." ~ Jeanette Winterson
HERE'S AN EXCERPT:
The tide was coming in and the sky was already dark, and below the bluff the rocks and spruce that etch the tiny coves of the island were more black than the ink-blue sky, the sky lit faintly by the first stars and the last pink strips of cloud lit from below the western horizon. I had been there for over an hour, occasionally looking through power binoculars mounted on a tripod, watching day become night, and I was thinking of something I'd read somewhere, Looking at the sea is like staring into a fire, and although it sounded literary, it was rot because a fire always burns itself out.
And then she was there, just across the narrow cut of water that separates the islands, magnified so faithfully I felt I could reach out and touch her, but I pushed the thought aside, content just to observe her with the sea as her setting, the forested coves below her and the immutable sky above and behind her, everything lit with stars that kept accumulating above us like snow that will not fall, and she touched herself.
She stood just off a path, and she put her hand inside the halter of her bright green summer dress and then slid the hand out slowly, trailing her fingers down over her slim waist and between her legs, the shape of her thighs emerging against the thin green fabric in the dim light, her fingertips disappearing briefly into the intimate shadow there.
The gesture excited me, of course. I was twenty. But for her, it was not arousal. I know that now. She was gauging herself, measuring her worth, appraising herself according to others' eyes.
The wrong eyes.
I knew her name. Elena Mauros. I had seen it hand-printed on the back of a large envelope delivered to the island the day before she arrived. I knew what she looked like in the daylight, too: long dark hair, green searching eyes, a lovely figure, slim at the waist but fuller than a college girl's. I had never really spoken to her. I did speak at her, in a sense, on the day she arrived. I had seen her for the first time when she boarded the mail boat which she, like most summer people, took to ferry herself and her luggage from Stone Harbor to our little island called Isle de Soie. The Island of Silk. Unlike others, she had brought with her a bright red velocipede, if that is the word, a gleaming replica of those 19th century bicycles with a large front wheel which she walked down from the mail boat under the wary and admiring gaze of the mail boat captain, my summer boss, Gene Levesque.
"That reminds me," he said, looking toward the lovely receding figure of Miss Mauros, then looking at me, his eyes flashing but his expression deadpan. Typical Gene. He deliberately left the thought unfinished.
A moment later I was standing on the wharf with two mailbags and an oversized package, And I thought about taking the smallest bag to the inn right away rather than waiting, mistakenly believing the Inn at Isle de Soie to be Miss Mauros' destination, but she was intercepted by a tall blond woman and two men who waited until the two women kissed hello, and then they all paused, the taller man sweeping a hand around with humorless authority as he pointed out the few and obvious landmarks: the post office that looked no bigger than a tool shed, the gift and coffee shops, and in the middle distance, the white church, perhaps two hundred yards to the northwest overlooking a field, and Perham's General Store, half that distance to the east and overlooking the narrow channel where most of the island boats docked. The tall man then turned and pointed in my direction, and I was momentarily self-conscious as the group of four looked toward me until I realized they were looking past me, over the landing and over the narrow cut of water to Turner's Island.