“You Again” is an alluring mystery from Immergut, whose first novel, “The Captives,” was nominated for an Edgar Award. It’s additionally a sublime literary puzzle. The novel’s epigraph is from Jorge Luis Borges’s “Labyrinths,” and Immergut has constructed her story as an ingenious maze. Is Abigail, a proficient painter who deserted her artwork for marriage, parenthood and a uninteresting job as an artwork director, experiencing a typical midlife disaster, “hallucinating about my lost youth, the road not taken, etc.,” as she muses in her diary? She’s actually checking issues off the midlife disaster to-do checklist, together with an infidelity. On the opposite hand, “surely the most confused person on the planet” might have one thing critically fallacious with her: psychiatrically, neurologically.
Trying to crack the Abigail case is the job of the novel’s secondary forged. Police detective Jameson Leverett meets her when her budding-activist teenage son is arrested for an antifa motion. The detective has funneled her file to a neurologist in Montreal, and to a physics professor in California. It isn’t making a gift of an excessive amount of to disclose that their analysis focuses on an accident that occurred when Abigail was precisely the age of her Manhattan doppelganger. Emails between this trio to debate their hypotheses on her weird conduct are scattered all through the novel, alongside with some enigmatic therapists’ notes on each Abigail and her mysterious double, recognized solely as “A.”
“You Again” gives a subtle argument about the character of time and reminiscence: “Although we experience time as unidimensional – as a unidirectional sequence of events – physicists have known this to be an illusion since Einstein.” But Immergut doesn’t dismiss the extra workaday issues of her Brooklyn couple as they attempt to be good mother and father and residents of a New York that, like Abigail and her husband, Dennis, has irretrievably modified. The gallery that hosted Abigail’s first artwork present is now a fancy grocery retailer; a Village East tenement the place she as soon as lived is now a 20-story rental constructing. “There are no junkies sleeping in the stairwell, and no cumbia music wafting up the fire escapes. There are no fire escapes.” Like Abigail’s addled mind, “New York City is full of ghosts.” The younger Abigail was a self-professed “experience junkie,” who introduced herself practically to destroy, but her middle-aged self feels nostalgic for the wildness of these days.
Balancing the kinetic plot — which entails, amongst different issues, a beheaded pigeon, a fireplace and a global ring of thieves — with a reasonable portrait of an odd marriage is no imply feat. But Immergut writes nicely about the form of weary, inchoate longing that may develop to outline a long-term marriage. Their marriage, Immergut writes, “seemed to have entered a different phase. Call it an afterlife. . . . We would let the edges remain indistinct, softened by a layer of cool quiet, like snow.” Abigail and Dennis met in artwork college, and because the subplots race alongside, each try to return to their studios. An outdated chum of theirs, now world-famous, claims to be keen to assist them stage comebacks. Who can be profitable first, and can the pair reclaim their relationship amid all of the livid modifications?
It’s fairly frequent for writers to remodel their protagonists into painters to keep away from the autobiographical cliche of writers writing about writers. But that feint doesn’t at all times succeed, as a result of the painters nonetheless speak and assume like writers. One of the pleasures of “You Again” is how capably Immergut captures her visible artist’s thought course of. Abigail thinks in coloration, in texture. “Standing at my easel,” Abigail says, “I feel like an open bucket, a rain barrel. I like to imagine the top of my head open, and the colors pouring in from some higher plane, some great source. Not God, not the sky. Instead, it’s the bright storm of energy that clangs and sloshes over and around every existing thing. . . . In my best moments, I can almost feel it burgeoning, primed to release its bounty, to make life richer, and deepen into art.”
Immergut, who like her heroine toiled at a soul-killing day job for a few years, writes with readability and compassion about “ambitions that refused to be thwarted.” Think of “You Again” as “A Portrait of the Artist as a Not-so-Young Woman,” on a shelf that would come with Claire Messud’s “The Woman Upstairs” — however with the addition of a mystery as a compelling chaser.
Lisa Zeidner’s most up-to-date novel is “Love Bomb.” Her ebook of criticism, “Who Says?: Mastering Point of View in Fiction,” is forthcoming.
Ecco Press. 304 pp. $27.99