For fans of Joshua Cohen and Ben Lerner, After James captures the dystopian strangeness of our current world.
A neuroscientist walks out of her life and isolates herself in the woods, intending to blow the whistle on a pharmaceutical company and its creativity drug gone wrong. A recently orphaned graduate school dropout is hired as a “literary detective” to decode the work of a mysterious Internet poet who writes about disappearances and murders with an inexplicably precise knowledge of private details. And a virologist discovers her identity has been stolen by a conceptual artist in whose stories someone always goes missing. Ali, James, and Celia exist in worlds where implausibilities that once belonged to science fiction, ancient superstition, or dystopian visions are real or impending.
Set in great cities, remote regions, and deadly borderlands, Michael Helm’s groundbreaking novel,After James, is told in three parts, each gesturing toward a type of genre fiction: the gothic horror, the detective novel, and the apocalyptic. Science and art become characters, and secrets form, hidden in the codes of genetic sequences, poems, and the patterns of political violence. Part to part, elements repeatotherworldly weather, disturbing artwork, buried corpsesand amid these echoes, a larger mystery arises, one that joins artifice to nature, and fiction to reality, delivering us into the troubling wonder of the present world.
|Publisher:||Tin House Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Michael Helm was born in Saskatchewan. His most recent novel, Cities of Refuge, is a national bestseller in Canada and was a Rogers Writers' Trust Ficiton Award finalist, a Giller Prize nominee, and a Globe and Mail and Now magazine Best Book of the Year. His earlier novels are The Projectionist, a finalist for the Giller Prize and the Trillium Award; and In the Place of Last Things, a finalist for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the regional Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book. His writings on fiction, poetry, and the visual arts have appeared in North American newspapers and magazines, including Brick, where he serves as an editor. He teaches at York University in Toronto.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
After James by Michael Helm is a so-so novel told in three loosely connected storylines. Disturbing and atmospheric, After James features stylistic, existential and dense prose resulting in a feeling of unease. The three parts of the novel represent three types of genre fiction: the gothic horror, the detective novel, and the apocalyptic. The first part follows Ali, a neuroscientist who abruptly leaves her job and isolates herself in rural Canada. She plans to blow the whistle on the drug she helped create, Alph, which enhances creativity but also induces suicide in test subjects. The second part follows James, a literary detective hired by Ali's father as he tries to find Ali by decoding the work of an internet poet who writes with precise details about the disappearance and murder of people. The third part features Ali's sister Cecilia, a survivor of a miscarriage, who has her identity stolen by a conceptual artist. After James is an ambitious novel that has brilliant parts but doesn't quite live up to its lofty goals. Part of the reason for this is the prose itself, which tends to be incredibly detailed. When this prose turns toward the characters, who are excessively reflective about everything, it is easy to lose track of any direction the stories are taking. They become pages of characters wallowing in their own thoughts while leaving the reader struggling to keep reading. I never felt any connection to them or had even begun to care about what they were thinking. And, if I'm totally honest, Helm had to do a lot of making up to me as a reader concerning Ali and her dog. Ali, for an intelligent woman, needed more assertiveness and should have pulled out her cell phone and made a few calls. I don't think I ever quite forgave Helm for what happened to Ali's dog and her hazy nonchalant attitude toward him being missing. It's never good if I'm mentally talking back to an author about characters and choices. It didn't bode well for the next two parts. In the end even the passages that were incredible couldn't overcome all the passages that left me struggling to keep reading (and I am a reader who tries very hard to understand the author's intent and very, very rarely does not finish what I start.) Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.