The Morels

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The Morels

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Hacker earns all the stereotypical accolades of a debut novel—promising, ambitious, sincere—but his execution is far more original, and the result is an odd alloy of kitchen-sink family drama and metafictional inquest. Arthur Morel, who as a child was a talented violinist with a flair for self-sabotage, has just finished his second novel (also called The Morels), a barely fictionalized account of his relationship with his wife Penelope and their son, Will. His book’s last scene, however, depicts Arthur and an eight-year-old Will engaging in a sexual act that shocks the public and quickly scuttles his relationship with his family, who are unmoved by his claims of poetic license. Penelope begins to suspect that the novel is an oblique admission by her husband of more than a merely unsavory imagination, and soon Arthur’s mounting troubles become a legal matter. His only remaining ally is a small-time filmmaker, whose faith in his friend’s innocence leads him to make a documentary that might uncover the facts behind the fictionalized Morels. Savvy readers will know that Hacker is up to something from the beginning, and what develops is an eloquent treatise on the rights of artists to exploit their personal histories—and why they do so, and at what cost. The payoff goes a long way toward justifying an overstuffed middle section that suffers from the frequent absence of the novel’s two anchors, the ever-frustrating Arthur and precocious Will. Hacker does more than establish himself with this fine debut; he delivers a mission statement and the book retains the same ability to shock as its namesake. Agent: Douglas Stewart, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
The line between art and sanity blurs to oblivion when a delusional novelist composes what he believes to be his greatest work of art. The question of just what constitutes art is at the center of debut novelist Hacker's densely constructed puzzle of a story, but, boy, does he make you work for it. Our Everyman narrator doesn't have much of a story himself: Chris is a film editor who is just barely muddling his way through mid-1990s Manhattan. But he's absorbed by another's tale when he accidentally reunites with Arthur Morel, a schoolmate. Both were child prodigies at a prestigious music academy, which Chris remembers with awe as the site where Arthur gave a command performance, followed by a literal defecation in front of his fans. These days, though, Arthur is a writer, married to a high-end bakery chef named Penelope and odd father to a son, Will. What makes Arthur so odd is his nearly fanatical devotion to the concept of writing as performance. In fact, his new novel is called The Morels and is religiously faithful to his life, with one exception. The novel's denouement features a graphic sexual trespass against his son. "[I]t's not a mystery," Arthur tells Chris. "It's not a romance, or what have you. This is--excuse the pretentiousness of saying it--literature. I'm looking for good, for true, for dangerous. This is my mandate, my only mandate. There is no formula. It's a direction, the vaguest sort of destination, a kind of compass that, if I know how to use it, will show me the way." As events unfold, Arthur's elaborate defenses start to crumble. Hacker is a fine writer with a promising head start, but the narrative's dizzying construction and meta-on-meta layers of obfuscation and posturing do start to get wearying by novel's end. The air of talent lingers on this debut, but it's far more interested in self-reverie than being interesting.
From the Publisher
"Stunning, unsettling … this is an extraordinary book."
Commentary Magazine

"The Morels is gripping and mesmerizing, even at its most depraved and saddening." —The A.V. Club

"The Morels asks big questions. What is art? What risks must be taken to grab our attention? Where is the line between truth and fiction? Hacker's story kept me up at night, turning the pages to find out what would happen."
Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Audacious, thought-provoking…. One of the top first novels of the year. The author spins out the story at a fast clip, creating a believable and entertaining tale. Woven into the fabric of the work are discussions of the function of art in society, the difficulty of arriving at the truth, and a thoughtful, compassionate detailing of the social and personal repercussions of individual actions and beliefs."
Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

"In Hacker’s engaging debut, eccentric author Arthur Morel writes a novel that pushes the envelope of art-for-art’s-sake beyond anyone’s capacity to understand, much less forgive.... Whether a reader is intrigued by the philosophical questions or not, this family’s plight makes for a marvelous read."

"The Morels is a total shock, and announces the arrival of a blistering new talent."
 —Three Guys One Book

"Christopher Hacker's The Morels is a captivating book, a clever, engaging read. But it also does a lot of heavy lifting, asking big questions about art, life, and family, transforming this ambitious debut into something really special."
—Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins

"The Morels is a brilliant and wickedly hilarious debut novel about artists of all stripes. With a sharp-shooter's eye, alarming honesty and serious wit infused with palpable compassion and affection for his characters, Christopher Hacker has written a rollicking picnic for cynics."
—Binnie Kirshenbaum, author of The Scenic Route

"The Morels is a daring and dangerous novel about the dangers of writing—and perhaps reading—novels, its pages stuffed with love, pain, worry, movies, music, fresh-baked bread, daily life in the real Manhattan, family secrets and, dare I say it, big bold ideas."
—David Gordon, author of The Serialist

"It's hard out there for sons and lovers in Christopher Hacker's accomplished debut, The Morels. To step into both this novel and the eponymous family it harbors is to peek into a house of mirrors that reminds us it can still be dangerous to write a novel, expose a strip of film to lightor make any kind of art, really. Hacker's splendid snapshot of a distinct cultural moment in the life of the American artist truly beguiles, and you're going to want to see how this multi-layered, flying-trapeze-routine of a story ends."
—T Cooper, author of Real Man Adventures

"Hacker's novel asks fundamental questions about imagination and art.... An unnerving and hugely satisfying novel, I hungrily read The Morels less for answers than for the pleasure of the messy and vital world Hacker creates.”
—Victoria Redel, author of The Border of Truth

"A jarring New York story of a self conscious writer who desperately over-intellectualizes his home life in order to psychologically masticate personal demons with devastating results. Set in the gloaming of the 20th century, Hacker’s creation, Arthur Morel, is on a quest to prove art is not only vital but inextricably linked with reality."
—Margarita Shalina, translator of The Duel by Anton Chekhov

“I could not stop reading this book, and it wasn’t because I was searching for some answer but rather I couldn’t wait to get to the next question."
—Michael Seidenberg, Brazenhead Books

"The Morels is an accomplished and moving novel. It’s challenging, and not easy to talk about, but in the end, I fell in love with Hackers’ characters and was deeply touched by their story."
—Cale Hand, The Strand Bookstore

The Morels is always entertaining.”
The Wall Street Journal

"Ambitious, sincere....An eloquent treatise on the rights of artists to exploit their personal histories—and why they do so, and at what cost."
 —Publishers Weekly

"Hacker is a fine writer....The air of talent lingers on this debut."

"Hacker moves well beyond the realm of esoteric matters like truth and art and into the darker arena of human relationships and nurture vs. nature with prose that cuts through the intellectual meat to the bone, revealing the humanity of all involved, as deeply flawed as they might be."
—The Gilmore Guide to Books

From the Hardcover edition.

Library Journal
In this audacious, thought-provoking first novel set in recent New York City, the nameless narrator, a former music student now in filmmaking, bumps into an old acquaintance, Arthur Morel. Arthur is an author who's publishing his second novel, the main characters of which are Arthur and his family, fictionalized to varying degrees. The novel includes a shocking revelation involving Arthur and his son, which leads the man's in-laws to file legal action against him. The narrator and his movie-making friends begin a documentary about Arthur, his work, beliefs, and influences. The narrator's story is also told along the way, a not-uncommon story of an intelligent young man unable to commit to a career or a relationship. He seems to make progress over the course of the book, but where Arthur and his family are concerned, happy endings are not always available for a tortured artist following an uncompromising muse. VERDICT One of the top first novels of the year. The author spins out the story at a fast clip, creating a believable and entertaining tale. Woven into the fabric of the work are discussions of the function of art in society, the difficulty of arriving at the truth, and a thoughtful, compassionate detailing of the social and personal repercussions of individual actions and beliefs.—James Coan, Milne Lib., SUNY Oneonta
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616952433
  • Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/30/2013
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.14 (h) x 1.22 (d)

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