I confess I chose this book by virtue of its attractive cover. And the intriguing title.
The Muse Asylum is what it says it is, “an institution for the artistically gifted mentally ill.” This is where Andrew Wallace is voluntarily detained as he receives treatment for being crazy -- seeing people on his trail, smashing his professor’s car, imagining conspiracies against him. Conspiracies led by Horace Jacob Little -- the subject of his thesis, a reclusive writer, whose face, identity, and whereabouts have been an enigma to fans and the media.
Part of Andrew’s therapy is to write a memoir. In the memoir, which he calls Confessions, he writes, “Horace Jacob Little had been my password to love and happiness. My relationship with Lara tangled up in his fiction.”
Lara Knowles is Andrew’s fiancée. She is also the former love of Jake Burnett, a journalist who is assigned to write a scoop on Horace Jacob Little.
This threesome of former Princeton students gets entangled in a drama-filled chase for answers about love, truth, and Horace Jacob Little. Who is Horace Jacob Little? Where is he? What does he look like? Is he really after Andrew? As soon as you get the answers, the plot shifts and all your previous assumptions are blown out the window. And new answers emerge as even more new questions arise. The alternating narrations by Jake (the sane but seeking voice) and Andrew (the paranoid, tortured voice) give this novel a deep, interesting texture.
From the front cover blurb to the last pages of the novel, this is branded as a post modern novel. Frankly, I wouldn’t recognize postmodernism even if it hits me on the face with a metanarrative. Regardless, this is an entertaining read. Because Czuchlewski can write, albeit in a raw, first-novel, trying-hard-to-please-my-mentor-Joyce-Carol-Oates way. But he can write. He weaves words that make me feel the grime and heat of New York and the irony of isolation in the density of its people. He narrates in ways that make me empathize with every character. He inundates you with mush as Andrew describes his love for Lara, but hey, he’s a mad, love-sick, deeply troubled man and the author writes him as such. He knows how to lay it on and build it up, so much so that I was gearing up for a climax that would blow my mind away. Twenty pages away from the end of the book and I realized that that fantabulous, mind-blowing ending was not going to happen. The ending was satisfactory, with all the loose ends tied neatly and all the boggling questions answered. Satisfactory, but not fantastic.
Maybe Czuchlewski had a word count limit, or he ran out of time, because it seemed to me the novel could have been longer. Maybe by a couple more chapters. Long enough to properly explain how Jake Burnett, who started enamored by Lara and irked by Andrew suddenly became attached to Andrew and no longer in love with Lara. How the change of heart happened is not sufficiently developed. Or maybe that’s postmodernism playing with my head.
And is it postmodern to have a story within a story? Little's novels and short stories expectedly have striking parallelisms with the first narrative being played out within the quirky love triangle of Andrew-Lara-Jake. I like it, but lately, I've been reading a lot of those types of twists, they're no longer twists.
This is probably one of those books that I would like better after the reading. I’m still chewing on it even after having finished it days ago. There are clever surprises at the end that made me appreciate the author, his humor, and okay, postmodern literature.