“The universe heaves with laughter, and I’m all about my lopsided, self-defining tale. How I came to be me, not you, how I’m shaping me for you, the way my posse and other native informants do for me, how I’m shape-shifting. I’m telling you that I’m telling you; my self is my field . . .”
The time is now, and Ezekiel Hooper Stark is thirty-eight. He’s a cultural anthropologist, an ethnographer of family photographs, a wry speculator about images. From childhood, his own family’s idiosyncrasies, perversities, and pathologies propel Zeke, until love lost sends him spiraling out of control in Europe. Back in the U.S.A., he finds unexpected solace in the image of a notable nineteenth-century relative, Clover Hooper Adams. Zeke embarks on a project, MEN IN QUOTES, focusing his anthropological lens on his own kind: the “New Man,” born under the sign of feminism. All the old models of masculinity are broken. How are you different from your father? Zeke asks his male subjects. What do you expect from women? What does Zeke expect from himself? And what will the reader expect of Zeke—is he a Don Quixote, Holden Caulfield, Underground Man, or Stranger?
Kaleidoscopic and encyclopedic, comic, tragic, and philosophical, Men and Apparitions showcases Lynne Tillman not only as a brilliantly original novelist but also as one of our most prominent contemporary thinkers on art, culture, and society.
Zeke is an American consumer, though what he consumes is not material goods but media, endlessly cataloging and referencing the contents of his own mind, often in lieu of visceral experience. . . . Tillman’s novel is a patient, insistent exploration of what it means to live inside such a mind. . . . There are elements of it that brought to mind writers as diverse as Ali Smith and Saul Bellow, Joy Williams and A. R. Ammons, but the cumulative effective is sui generis.
Men and Apparitions makes few concessions to the reader—in this it is like all of her books, which channel slightly neurotic characters (O.K., wholly neurotic characters) and lead us deep into their psyches with little concern for conventional story lines or other helpful guideposts. What they offer instead is nearly claustrophobic access to another consciousness, working out psychological obsessions with verve, intelligence and often comical deflection. It’s challenging, bonkers and maybe kind of great?
In Men and Apparitions, photography is both machine and magic. . . . Zeke’s mind is agile, funny, stylish, but follows its own interior logic, moving quickly through complex knots of ideas and references that start where he is interested, and stop when he is no longer. . . . Reading Men and Apparitions . . . I thought of J. D. Salinger and his Glass family, all of whom narrate their stories with the same offhanded, articulate intelligence as Zeke. . . . I thought of the photographer Philip Steinmetz and his work about family photo albums, a six-volume sociological ‘portrait’ of himself and his relatives, in which he and his family members both are and are not themselves.
[A] ruminative and amusing novel . . . At times aphoristic . . . the book succeeds as a gentle satire of generational self-absorption and emotional disengagement.
A beautiful meditation on photography.
Comic, tragic, kaleidoscopic, brilliant and boundlessly engaging.
Cult-favorite Lynn Tillman’s latest novel, Men and Apparitions, takes readers for a rollicking, frolicking, outstandingly original ride that explores the roots of feminism, the death of masculinity, and the cultural identities we’ve gleaned along the way, all while making us question everything we’ve ever known and taken for granted.
Lynne Tillman’s much anticipated new novel after 12 years revolves around a cultural anthropologist who turns his anthropological lens on masculinity, art, and memory. A profoundly wise and remarkably supple novel from an outstanding writer.
Tillman, it seems to me, is not a writer who invents characters and moves them through the machinery of plot. Rather, she seems to inhabit other minds—or she lets them move through her, like a medium. . . . The book is a study of visual culture, like Susan Sontag’s On Photography or John Berger’s Ways of Seeing. Or the book acts as a seismograph, registering shifting patterns of gender identity and its relationship to power.
1 of 99 Things to See, Hear, and Read This March
A strange and playful hybrid of fiction and criticism, Men and Apparitions is both a probe into the psyche of obsession and a theoretical reflection on contemporary visual culture, with reference to plenty of artists, photographers, and thinkers strewn throughout.
A nimble novelist.
No matter what genre Tillman is working in, this style suggests an endlessly unspooling talking cure, a social body attempting to imperfectly come to terms with itself. Men and Apparitions is one of her most sustained, complicated, and astute reflections on the dialectics of sensitivity.
Lynne Tillman lends her remarkable talents to answer questions about today’s obsession with images. Through the eyes of cultural anthropologist Ezekiel Hooper Stark, she asks: What is behind the human drive to create, remake, and keep images?
Will appeal to readers with a particular interest in cultural criticism . . . Tillman is a risk-taker with a wide-ranging mind who likes to experiment with the novel form. This extremely cerebral exercise is studded with fascinating observations and commentary. Literary collections will want to acquire it.
With callouts to a mind-revving roster of photographers, writers, filmmakers, intellectuals, and media magnets, erudite, discerning, and everdaring Tillman has forged a mischievous conflation of criticism and fiction. Incantatory, maddening, brilliant, zestful, compassionate, and timely, Tillman’s portrait of a floundering academic trying to make sense of a digitized world of churning, contradictory messages reveals the perpetual interplay between past and present, the personal and the cultural, image and life.
[A] grand and sprawling novel. . . . Men and Apparitions is a loose and beautiful baggy monster of a novel that opens in on itself like a fun house hall of mirrors. What a tremendous experience it is to walk through, never quite sure who’s who or what you’re looking at.
A grab bag of a book, mixing text and image, fiction and nonfiction, material about the character (his history and relations) and essayistic takes on art and photography and masculinity . . . The idea, for her, is to explore family, identity even, as something that we want to preserve, to hold onto, even as time insists we can’t.
If Men and Apparitions is an image, it’s a Polaroid—maybe a haunted one—that someone hands you as it’s still developing. Tillman insists that there are formal and social conventions yet to be upended and rethought. Even if she doesn’t achieve it herself, the magic is that you can see them materializing in your hand . . . These layers are part of her brilliance in conveying the self-in-progress.
Lynne Tillman writes with wit that makes the reader dance.
Tillman’s work is the perfect cure: placing plot in the background, she foregrounds critical thought and observation for a brilliant hybrid of cultural anthropology and fiction.
Lynne Tillman’s new novel, Men and Apparitions, makes a better case for women writing men . . . Tillman isn’t a writer you look to for plot-forward work, and Men and Apparitions is no exception, but neither does it coast on the clumsy charm of its narrator, though it could. Instead, it’s interested in something much more cerebral, and much more difficult to distill into a 600-word review. As I read it, I realized it was doing something I haven’t seen convincingly accomplished in any recent literature: It captures the feeling of life in a society that’s focused more on the quick consumption of a massive amount of text and images than it is on experience . . . This is a scourge of modern life, a high-res lens through which we see our fractured world, and one captured with melancholic clarity in Men and Apparitions . . . Men and Apparitions begins as a book about men, and becomes one about everyone.
A smart and sleightful novel . . . Over the four hundred pages of Men and Apparitions, Zeke is by turns analytic, emotional, distanced from his own tale, and immersed in others’ histories . . . In some respects, there is an orthodox novel of late-twentieth-century American family life lurking inside Men and Apparitions, but the novel is more essay collection than cross-generational saga . . . Most of [Tillman’s] constellating of culture is sharp and sharply expressed . . . Among its many other wise and witty lines of thought, Men and Apparitions is a vexing inquiry into the recent sexual-political past.
No one anywhere writes more vibrantly and astutely into the gut of culture than Lynne Tillman. I always want to eat her books because her language is profoundly embodied. She is my secular art angel, my intellectual and creative hope, my full-blown galaxy.
As a steadfast Lynne Tillman fan, I am grateful for her authentically weird and often indescribable books. She gives me permission to continue to try to write such work myself.
A powerful disquisition on memory, media, and melancholia.
Lynne Tillman is her established sui generis self . . . This book is compelling and bracing and you read many sentences twice to get all the juice there is in them.
Lynne Tillman’s first novel in a dozen years crackles with pent-up energy. Brimming with her trademark wit and vibrancy, Men and Apparitions is a confirmation of a sadly under-acknowledged truth: Lynne Tillman is a genius.
Men and Apparitions is about photography, ’New Men,’ ethnography, family history, interpreting images, growing up, falling apart, and just about everything else in its own wonky way, featuring Clover Adams, a praying mantis named Mr. Petey, and a kindly elderly painter in Amsterdam, but ultimately it a brilliant novel about a funny, charming, intelligent, sensitive man trying to understand what it means to be alive. A new classic in the ’figuring shit out’ genre.