The Impossible Dream

The Impossibly
Coffee House Press

One evening, a brick sails through a man's window with a note attached:

    Dear Sir,
    Do not, under any circumstances

The handwriting on the note, the man observes, "seemed familiar, but also not, maybe mostly not." He resolves to obey this strange directive as best he can, while pursuing a lover who is equally enigmatic--and possibly a double agent.

So it goes in Laird Hunt's The Impossibly, a first novel that verges on either brilliance or incoherence--and possibly both. Recalling the paranoia of Thomas Pynchon, this innovative spy riddler whisks the reader into a world of amnesia and suspense, where events unfold according to the logic of a dream. Hunt's frequent touches of deadpan humor make this a noir book of laughter and forgetting.

It is difficult to give a fair synopsis of the plot since the narrator is an amnesiac. What is clear is that he is an agent for an underworld syndicate known as "the organization." Narrator and reader alike struggle to make sense of ensuing events--a series of bizarre episodes that, like the brick-tossing, seem pregnant with significance.

Either accentuating this effect or rendering the book intermittently unreadable, Hunt pays little heed to the conventions of narrative. Sentences often begin on one page and run through half of the next. Characters bleed into one another in the narrator's mind. Dialogue is packed into paragraph form without quotation marks. The reader is thus buoyed along in a bewildering fashion, captive to the testimony of a memory pocked with holes.

This effect, while at first agreeable, begins to frustrate and annoy. Toward the novel's end, while reflecting on his first encounter with his mysterious lover, the narrator captures one reader's reaction:

    When I was finished thinking... I still didn't have an answer, or only a hypothetical one--that event, the one about the paint and shelves and caged animals, had been real, but much of what followed had not. This was unsatisfying, and a bit too disturbing, so I turned my attention to another matter.

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