Fire Exit

Tin House. Jun. 2024. 256p. ISBN 9781959030553. $28.95. F
Talty’s debut, Night of the Living, was billed as a short story collection but can easily be read as a novel-in-stories. His latest is more identifiable as a straightforward novel, collapsing the structural precariousness of that previous work to mixed effect. The narrative centers on Charles, a middle-aged white man raised on and still residing near the Penobscot Reservation, who is dealing with his mother’s descent into dementia and his increasing desire to reveal himself to a now-adult daughter who doesn’t know him. At its core, the novel is concerned with the ways people are haunted by pasts both lived and inherited and the endless complex negotiations between parents and children. Talty savvily conceives of his narrative in the grand midcentury tradition of depicting suburban roil, wherein placid surfaces of the domestic and quotidian build to existential crescendo, and the result does prove potent in spurts. But in execution, the sum of the languorous plotting, which moves around in time and sifts through Charles’s interiority, is a novel that occasionally feels absent of meaningful incident and psychological heft, too reliant on homogenous, heavy-handed themes and narrative parallelizing to land with its intended power.
VERDICT This novel further testifies to Talty’s ability as a formal craftsman, but its overdependence on narrative and emotional loops leaves the short novel feeling surprisingly padded.
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