New York Review Books has a habit of pulling me away from my regularly scheduled reading by putting out something that’s unfamiliar to me, well-written, and hits a lot of my pleasure points–last year Kenneth Fearing‘s The Big Clock, Elaine Dundy‘s The Dud Avocado, and The Stories of J. F. Powers all did a number on me. The Philadelphia
Enquirer Inquirer points to another promising title, Robert Montgomery Bird‘s 1836 novel about metempsychosis, Sheppard Lee, Written by Himself. From Edward Pettit‘s review:
Poe wrote that the novel is “a farce of very pretty finesse.” True, but Bird’s humor is also sharp, even cynically driven. He leaves no social group (not even slaves) unscathed. Although I am suspicious of his characterization of the issues of slavery, it fits the broader purpose of his novel, which is to dissipate the delusions of a corrupt society. Sheppard Lee’s imposture of his fellow citizens mirrors the false pretenses of a nation. Bird’s richly nuanced novel wears the dramatic mask of comedy, but underneath lies the mask of tragedy.
(Side note: Christopher Looby, who wrote the introduction to the book, was my BA thesis advisor.)