The Facades

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Along the streets of the once-great Midwestern city of Trude, the ornate old buildings lie in ruin. Shrouded in disappointment and nostalgia, Trude has become a place to “lose yourself,” as one tourist brochure puts it: a treacherous maze of convoluted shopping malls, barricaded libraries, and elitist assisted-living homes.
One night at Trude’s opera house, the theater’s most celebrated mezzo-soprano vanishes during rehearsal. When police come up empty-handed, the star’s ...
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The Facades

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Along the streets of the once-great Midwestern city of Trude, the ornate old buildings lie in ruin. Shrouded in disappointment and nostalgia, Trude has become a place to “lose yourself,” as one tourist brochure puts it: a treacherous maze of convoluted shopping malls, barricaded libraries, and elitist assisted-living homes.
One night at Trude’s opera house, the theater’s most celebrated mezzo-soprano vanishes during rehearsal. When police come up empty-handed, the star’s husband, a disconsolate legal clerk named Sven Norberg, must take up the quest on his own. But to discover the secret of his wife’s disappearance, Norberg must descend into Trude’s underworld and confront the menacing and bizarre citizens of his hometown: rebellious librarians, shifty music critics, a cop called the Oracle, and the minister of an apocalyptic church who has recruited Norberg’s teenage son. Faced with the loss of everything he loves, Norberg follows his investigation to the heart of the city and through the buildings of a possibly insane modernist architect called Bernhard, whose elaborate vision will offer him an astonishing revelation.

Written with boundless intelligence and razor-sharp wit, THE FACADES is a comic andexistential mystery that unfolds at the urgent pace of a thriller.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

The star of a small Midwestern town's opera house simply disappears during a routine rehearsal, but the police seem to have no clues to why she has gone missing. Not content to watch from the sidelines, her husband jumps into the hunt, but to succeed, this energetic legal clerk must penetrate the high walls and labyrinths of local subcultures. Deeply scented with atmosphere, Eric Lundgren's The Facades possesses more depth than a whodunit without relinquishing its existential suspense.

Publishers Weekly
In this fascinating, complex debut novel, a famous mezzo-soprano vanishes from rehearsal, leaving behind her husband, Sven, to care for their disaffected son and search for her in the labyrinthine streets of fictional Midwestern city Trude. Though most of the plot involves Sven’s existential and often humorous detective work, Trude itself is the biggest of Lundgren’s many successes here. The once-great city is well rendered not only in its physical appearance (“The city assembled itself, scattered lights in the old skyscrapers meandering the night sky like notes on a staff”), but also in its oddities, such as the militarized library where the librarians are in a stalemate with police, a pretentious nursing home that is more difficult to gain admission to than the local college, and bathroom graffiti that reads, “There is no use in killing oneself; one always does it too late.” Ratcheted onto the spine of an un-put-downable mystery and brimming with entertaining dialogue and unique, well-wrought characters, this is one of those rare books that corners every mood, every emotion, and throws them into the spotlight. Lundgren’s debut is a fierce, funny examination of loss, set against one of the most creative worlds in recent memory, and it’s not to be missed. Agent: Renee Zuckerbrot, Renee Zuckerbrot Literary Agency. (Sept.)
The New Yorker
"'The Facades' belongs to the same subgenre as Paul Auster's 'New York Trilogy,' Michael Chabon's 'The Yiddish Policemen's Union,' and Jonathan Lethem's 'Motherless Brooklyn': detective novels influenced as much by Kafka as they are by Chandler."
Kirkus Reviews
When a mezzo-soprano star of the local opera disappears, her worrywart husband must explore the depths of a bizarre and labyrinthine city for clues to her whereabouts. Some debut manuscripts are better left in desk drawers. That's not to say that librarian-by-day Lundgren's debut is without certain merits. The writer clearly has some syntactical skill, and his experiment in worldbuilding is ambitious. However, a seriously disagreeable narrator and a gloss of highbrow humor take the shine off this slice of literary absurdity quickly. Our narrator is Sven Norberg, a schlubby, smoking cubicle jockey who lives in the fictional city of Trude. Trude is a really weird amalgam of Midwestern highways and shopping malls punctuated with bizarre European-influenced behemoths designed by a mysterious architect named Bernhard. It's a city that has barricaded its libraries, creating a secretive underground of armed librarians, and it's, conversely, one that is obsessed with opera and other forms of high culture. Its superstar was Norberg's wife, Molly, who disappeared with no warning, leaving Sven to raise their teenage son, Kyle. Things happen--Sven starts sleeping with a very young girl named Plea; Kyle falls under the influence of a cultlike church; and clues to Molly's whereabouts start appearing in coded entries in the local newspaper. Later, a woman named Cassandra indicates to Sven that she may have clues to Molly's frame of mind. But none of it ever goes anywhere. It's as if the author is introducing odd situations and absurd events simply to shout at readers how terribly witty it all is. When asked for guidance from his son, Sven answers bluntly. "As I see it, the point is to endure as much shit as you can without any illusions," he says. Add on to all of this an ambiguous, confusing denouement, and the final product is a pretentious, frustrating mess. A hollow satire working so very hard at being clever that it forgets to deliver any emotional truth.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781468306873
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover
  • Publication date: 9/12/2013
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 540,628
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Eric Lundgren grew up in Minneapolis. He studied at Lewis & Clark College and earned his MFA at Washington University, where he was awarded a third-year fellowship. The Facades is his first novel. He works at a public library in St. Louis, where he lives with his wife, Eleanor, and their two cats.
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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Eric Lundgren, Author of The Facades

Why did you choose to set The Facades in Trude, a fictional Midwestern city?

Before I started this novel, I had gotten into a creative rut. I was bored with my work, and I needed to do something to blow open the form, something that would let me feel its possibilities again. Inventing a city meant that I could go beyond just creating fictional people and problems; it gave me a chance to seriously mess with the fabric of reality. A recognizable, real world is still there. The city where I live, St. Louis, has been a profound influence on the landscape and the emotional weather of Trude. There are other elements drawn from Minneapolis, where I grew up, and Baton Rouge, where I lived briefly a decade ago. But there are a lot of things that are wholly invented. When you give yourself that much freedom, you also have to take great pains to ensure that the book maintains tension, that there's internal coherence and rules that are legible to the reader. That's the big challenge of writing an altered-reality novel like this.

Can you explain the role that Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities played in your development of Trude?

The initial connection was this idea of the Midwestern U.S. being kind of invisible. Not really distinct in people's minds, lumped together as the flyover or whatever. So when I came across the name Trude in Calvino, it clicked, because he describes Trude as this disappointed place that is endless and consumed with deja-vu, where "only the name of the airport changes." The fact that all of Calvino's cities have feminine names interested me, because in my novel, the disappearance of the protagonist Norberg's wife Molly is the impetus for the whole narrative, there's a tremendous sense of loss projected out onto the city. So I adopted that element. Also I would say that Calvino provided a model of imaginative freedom. The mind at play. Invisible Cities is both an incredibly free and an incredibly formal, structured book.

Washington University in St. Louis seems to be producing a lot of talented young novelists lately. Sarah Bruni's The Night Gwen Stacy Died was published in July and Anton DiSclafani's The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls was released earlier this summer as well. What is it about St. Louis that makes the city such a hotbed for new fiction?

Well, that's funny. Anton and I graduated in 2006, and Sarah was the next year, I think. And all of us went through an incredibly long, grueling process of finishing the books, shopping them around, and revising, and here in 2013, all three of us are publishing within months of each other! But a lot of credit has to be given to Kathryn Davis—who also has a new book this fall, her first in seven years. Kathryn is one of our very best writers, and an amazing teacher as well. Since her arrival at Wash U in 2005, the program has really soared. I'm pretty sure I could not get accepted there anymore. It was a tough but ultimately transformative experience for me, the opposite of the stereotypical MFA experience where all the idiosyncrasies are shaved off your work and you emerge with this bland product. I felt that I was really pushed to go out on a limb and explore the weirder aspects of what I could do as a writer.

And St. Louis is an inspiring place. It's falling apart rather beautifully. It's cheap, the culture is interesting, the literary tradition is strong, and we have great libraries and bookstores.

You aren't a parent yourself, although your protagonist Sven Norberg is. Did you find it challenging to write from the perspective of a father who's struggling to raise a son despite not having any children of your own?

There are a lot of aspects of the novel that I haven't experienced directly. I've never had the experience of my wife disappearing (thank god!) So you have to find a way to think yourself into those experiences. In the case of Molly's disappearance, it was her association with music that allowed me to relate to it emotionally. Because I was a very serious cellist growing up, and it was the center of my life for a long time, and I lost that. So that is why Molly is so closely identified with her voice and with music. In terms of Norberg's relationship with his son Kyle, I had a period in high school when I was a really bad kid, just awful to my parents, who didn't deserve it at all. So I've often thought back guiltily on that time. This influenced my portrayal of the relationship, although not in a straightforward way, because Kyle is not really a bad kid, it's Norberg who mainly falls short as a father. But the guilt and the strain, the miscommunication—I drew those things from memory. You draw from life and then find ways to bury it in the fiction, to let it nourish the fiction from below.
Who have you discovered lately?

Well, I am a great fan of Sarah Bruni's book, The Night Gwen Stacy Died. Sarah's book takes on a daunting subject, which is Midwestern boredom, and how it can lead people to construct these seductive but dangerous narratives for themselves. It is a beautifully written book, it takes risks, it has imaginative vision. I like to think of our books as cousins.

Another debut novel I really enjoyed recently was A Questionable Shape, by Bennett Sims. It's a zombie novel set in Baton Rouge on the brink of hurricane season. And it's a rumination on memory and loss and the ways there are to feel undead. So subtle, so brilliantly observant. And it has footnotes—that is actually a selling point for me. It was published by Two Dollar Radio books, an outstanding small publisher operating out of Columbus. It has been great to see Midwestern literary culture take off over the past few years, with the consistent success of places like Graywolf Press, Dalkey Archive, Coffee House Press, and journals like the Missouri Review and Midwestern Gothic. People are starting to pay more attention to what's coming out of the Midwest. They may still be flying over, but they're reading our books on the planes.

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