by Bruce Wagner

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In Memorial, acclaimed author Bruce Wagner offers his most extraordinary and affecting book to date — a profound story of family and faith, and a masterpiece of American fiction.

Joan Herlihy, a young architect desperate to win the commission for a highly coveted Tsunami memorial, has a secret with life-changing consequences.



In Memorial, acclaimed author Bruce Wagner offers his most extraordinary and affecting book to date — a profound story of family and faith, and a masterpiece of American fiction.

Joan Herlihy, a young architect desperate to win the commission for a highly coveted Tsunami memorial, has a secret with life-changing consequences. Her brother Chester is keeping secrets as well: he's become addicted to Internet-prescribed painkillers after being injured on a "reality" show. Their estranged father lives nearby — happy for the first time in his life, Raymond's carefully laid plans for retirement and a second marriage are thrown into shocking disarray when the police break into his apartment in a botched raid. Through it all, Marjorie Herlihy, the lonely, indomitable matriarch, falls prey to a dizzying confidence scheme that will test her powers of survival. Wagner's searing portrait of an old woman trying to save her family and live out her dreams is among the most tender and savage in contemporary literature.

Deeply compassionate and violently irreverent, Memorial is a testament to forgiveness, and the majestic struggle toward transcendence — a luminous tribute to spirituality in the twenty-first century.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[Memorial] records a softening of mood and a growing curiosity about other possibilities of senses a moral intelligence missing from much contemporary fiction that a Nabokovian poise and beauty."

— Pankaj Mishra, The New York Times Book Review

"[Wagner] creates a tender vision of modern life, one in which preoccupations with popular culture are an imperfect carapace for the vulnerable hearts underneath."

The New Yorker

"Not since William Faulkner have we seen anything quite like this."

— George Garrett, Hollins University, Virginia

"Memorial is an infinitely detailed, completely engrossing picture of modern America."

— John Homans, New York Magazine

Michiko Kakutani
In his ambitious new novel, Memorial, Mr. Wagner tackles a much bigger subject than Hollywood: he wants to show us how ordinary people in Los Angeles live today by dissecting the experiences of four members of a fragmented family: father, mother, daughter and son, all leading separate, atomized and incomplete lives within miles of one another.

As in his dazzling epic, I�ll Let You Go, the result is a panoramic if sometimes unwieldy novel that showcases Mr. Wagner�s ability not only to write savage, often very funny satire, but also to create deeply felt, sympathetic characters, people subject to the terrors of day-to-day life, to loss and grief and illness.
— The New York Times

Pankaj Mishra
Wagner may again seem trapped in the persona of a haughtily amoral author, briskly rubbing his readers' faces in the grotesqueries available through the local Yellow Pages. But Memorial also records a softening of mood and a growing curiosity about other possibilities of being. Behind the clamorous, disheveled prose, the tirades and philippics, one senses a moral intelligence missing from much contemporary fiction that aspires self-consciously to a Nabokovian poise and beauty.
—The New York Times Book Review
Jeff Turrentine
…in his new novel…Wagner has moved away from Hollywood solipsism to create a poignant family saga…Fans of the author's famously vituperative riffs won't be disappointed with Memorial (he savages Larry King, Charlie Rose and several winners of the Pritzker architecture prize), but they may be surprised to see how tenderly he tries, this time, to steer his creations away from the mirages of the material world and toward inner peace.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Like Wagner's previous books, Memorial is set in a Los Angeles descended from Nathaniel West's and Joan Didion's but played for laughs as well as existential dread. It's an L.A. novel the way Short Cuts and Crash are L.A. movies: a set of loosely connected stories rather than a tight single narrative. Like Wagner's other books, too, it refers frequently-compulsively, even-to celebrities and includes passages of breathtaking viciousness about some of them. But because the heroine (and authorial stand-in), Joan Herlihy, is a high-end architect angling for a commission to design a billionaire's memorial to two American victims of the 2004 tsunami, the insidery trash talk is mainly about the stars of architecture and art. Richard Meier resembles "a well-heeled dentist, the type with something questionable on his hard drive," Daniel Libeskind is "a relentless pussywhipped kike in python boots and a Yohji trench," and Zaha Hadid has an "unkempt Fat Actress kohl-smeared gypsy-soprano" look that works for her. Despite the customary Wagnerian savagery and ultra-knowingness, however, Memorial is also earnest and even life-affirming, more like I'll Let You Go (2002) than his purely comic novels. The main characters are the members of an ordinary middle-class family-Joan, her feckless older brother, their sweet mother and sweet runaway father. Three of the four are spectacularly victimized, but every one is also the recipient of a financial windfall, and achieves redemption-which amounts either to slightly overdetermined coincidence, or karma. India is a major leitmotif in Memorial, and although Wagner satirizes InStyle Buddhism (like he did in 2003's Still Holding), he seems also to be taking Eastern religion seriously, as if to say: modern life is grotesque and funny as ever, but tenderness, honor and glimmers of wisdom are possible as well. Wagner is a very good writer, and Memorial is filled with beautifully observed turns of phrase ("a big-voltage desexed smile like a nun gone to rut"). His deconstruction of newscasters' special disingenuousness is virtuosic: "Wolf Blitzer talking about a plane that just went down... all necro'd out, breathy and methy and cockstiff for Death, a husky-voiced fratboy Peeper...." But the stylistic fanciness can also mask imprecision (an architectural design "grafting failed skinsketch onto gauzy somnambulist constructions"), and sometimes simply goes over the top-such as a 238-word-long sentence ("ambient absence, sounds and swellings, screams and shadows") about sex. His weakness for puns ("natal attractions," "Restoril in peace," "Hello, Dalai!") is... a weakness. But this is an ambitious, engaging, satisfying book. While his fans will find all the demonic intelligence and fun they expect, Memorial might also attract a new cohort of readers who want more than all-dark-comedy-all-the-time. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Joan Herlihy is a moderately successful but dissatisfied Los Angeles architect who yearns to join the elite group of celebrity "starchitects" (Gehry, Koolhaas, et al.), and the stupendous Freiberg Memorial will definitely put her on the map-if only she can win the commission. Joan tells herself that she will do whatever is necessary. Meanwhile, her brother Chester has become addicted to Internet pharmaceuticals, and their divorced mother Marj is about to lose her life savings to scam artists. Coincidentally, Marj's ex-husband, Ray, who walked out decades ago, is living nearby with his Indian girlfriend and their troubled dog, currently featured on television's famous Dog Whisperer show. Billed as a change of pace from his earlier sequence of Hollywood novels (including I'm Losing You and Still Holding), this work is in fact typical Wagner fare, a rapid-fire social satire that is closely modeled on Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities but with a crueler, more caustic tone. Wagner is plugged into all the latest trends, but his vision is simply too Los Angeles-centric to succeed outside the city limits. Mainly for California collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/06.]-Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law School Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
SoCal chronicler extraordinaire (Still Holding, 2003, etc.) goes deep with a portrait of a terminally self-destructive family. After lightening up a bit in his previous novel (The Chrysanthemum Palace, 2005), Wagner returns to a more savage tone with this baleful look at a subculture in abysmal decline. Members of the long-broken-up Herlihy family are living separate lives, each being screwed over in horrendous ways. Ray, who deserted his two children years ago, is an aging fella who doesn't enjoy much anymore except for Twilight Zone reruns and the company of his moody, young, Indian girlfriend. When the police mistakenly break down Ray's door and shoot his dog before realizing Ray's not the perp they want, a classic Los Angeles civil suit goes quickly into motion. Marj, Ray's dotty ex, just lost her new husband and is sucked into an elaborate con by a team of cold-blooded grifters, who take the scam to lengths almost too painful to read. Ray and Marj's daughter Joan, a striving architect, is hired by a billionaire to design a memorial honoring two of his relatives (and nobody else) who died in the Southeast Asian tsunami. When not delivering furious interior monologues ("she was merely a skinsack of Diet Coke sugarwater and ruined eggs"), Joan sleeps with all the wrong men and hates herself for it. Last and least is Chester, a film-location scout whose life is lost in a fog of pot smoke and bad schemes until he's accidentally wounded during a staged gag for a Punk'd-style TV show (inspiring another promising civil suit). Like its subjects/targets, the story occasionally gets lost in self-reflection. Wagner's prose is, nevertheless, a force of nature, and laser-sharp in its selection ofHollywood sitting ducks. Brilliant, entropic fiction that sometimes spins off into its own narcissistic void.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt



37 now but thinks of herself as 40, to soften the coming blow. "Then," the litany goes, "I'll be 50 — a woman in her 50s." "Then I'll be 63." "Then 70. Then 76, 77." "Then I will be 81 — 83." She doesn't go so far as to muse upon a future place of residence or quality of caretakers, shuddering when she passes assisted living homes, extended care America, thinking of her mom, but is certain of one thing, that she will be alone: all the while feeling those ages to be just round the corner, come in a blink, knowing intellectually re the fleetingness of time that there were many celebrated men and women, avatars, essayists, and intellects who could back her subjective notions with hard text or admirably glib spiritual pronouncement. Easy to evoke, even during mundane daytime chores, those philosophical flights of grad school days gone by, wild and romantically jagged cerebral nights. Stanford semiotics, string theory and such, rhapsodically sprayed like Halloween gunk on the trees and bushes of verbiage, space and time — collapse of reason and rationale like so many symphonies pounded to the size of the head of a pin, Gödel, Escher, Bach, so be it. Wasn't that the dream of this life?

She'd been having a specific dream-within-the-dream for over a year now, as if her mind, that great computer, were searching for a lost j-peg: the Perfect Memorial file. In a nocturnal reverie she called the Castle of Perseverance, details of the catastrophe were vague and illegible, as 10-minute-old skywriting on a still summer's day or the half-erased chalkmarks of simple equations upon green slate. Joan floated there too, billowy charcoal housecoat open like the commodious wings of that tree-flying squirrel she saw on a Discovery Channel doc, or a whimsical matron's smock in a children's book, and she could always just about make out the smokily verdant terrain below. The locus of the Event — "mound zero" is what one of her wittier lover-confidants called it — for which, in nondreaming life, her firm, ARK, had been hired to commemorate, the REM/Rem locus, as it turned out, was neither domestic nor international but hovered somewhere above, in a cottonball Canadian Christo-wrapped airspace 5 full skycrapers above. Sometimes a superstructure the firm had bid for and lost — there were a number of them, more than Barbet wanted to count — but one in particular, in China, seemed persistently to shanghai her nightworld, grafting failed CG skinsketch onto gauzy somnambulist constructions. In the dream, millions were to be memorialized, when the truth is ARK (10 years ago aptly, chicly named) had been hired by a billionaire whose brother and sister-in-law died near Chennai in the Christmas tsunami. The monument in Napa was to represent just the 2 of them, swept into a full-moon lake of mangroves, left hanging in trees like ornaments, though of course the design would have to be something beyond, as if representing all swampy, swami'd souls, because while the Northern California tribute was to sit on 400 obscenely private acres, it would become a well-known thing, famously endowed, famously elegiac. It had already been written about in the architectural trade and popular press, as if there was a difference between them anymore, and, if secured, would inevitably lead to other commissions. No doubt.

The jewel box site and predictably pending dumbass dustup over elitist venue mandated things be done just right. While Joan slept, ghosts of the battered, float-bloated dead wafted and moaned, debris-spun like dirty shredded cardboard Niagaran barrels, the hundreds of thousands never to be seen again deviously commingled with intransigent Katrina-killed old folks in attics (again she thought of Mother), wet silvery heads jammed into memorabilia-choked roofs with their rictus mouths, Pontchartrain floaters and bloaters and jokey FEMA hieroglyphs on sodden walls of Sumatran mud and Gentilly lace. Upon awakening, Joan became uneasy, as if somehow her ARK's desire and egoistic need to win said competition was unclean. It was the kind of dream, scrim of hallucinatory blowback, that sent her out for mocha latte in a daze, bypassing the stainless steel Impressa, wondering with embarrassment when she gave the barista her order if she'd actually forgotten to brush her teeth.

Copyright © 2006 by Bruce Wagner

Meet the Author

Bruce Wagner is the author of The Chrysanthemum Palace (a PEN Faulkner fiction award finalist); Still Holding; I'll Let You Go (a PEN USA fiction award finalist); I'm Losing You; and Force Majeure. He lives in Los Angeles.

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