“‘Vacation’ by Deb Olin Unferth”

My review of Vacation, Deb Olin Unferth’s debut novel (McSweeney’s, 3 September 2008), is in the Sept./Oct./Nov. issue of Bookforum (print and Web).

(It’s my first published piece with my new byline.)

There’s this one sentence in the novel that I couldn’t quote, both because I was assigned an upper limit of 500 words and because there’s pretty much no reason the sentence would ever be quoted in a review. (It’s not an especially artful sentence—it’s an adjective and a noun—or representative in any way that I can think of of the qualities of the novel, etc.) But it’s a sentence that winks at you, in a way that I found funny personally (and if you know me, or have read my “about” page, you’ll understand why). And maybe it’d be funny to anyone with any familiarity with the world of indie presses. Maybe? Maybe a little tiny bit funny. Like a character named Timothy McSweeney in a book published by, say, MacAdam Cage. Or two characters named MacAdam and Cage in a book published by, say, Seven Stories. (A building that’s seven stories tall in a book published by, say, Akashic?—well, that’s not so funny.)

Anyway, here’s both the sentence (you’ll see) and some context—the protagonist mulling over the fact that he has never told his wife that he had an accident and hurt his head when he was twelve (pp. 154-155 of the ARC, if you’re curious):

His family moved across town. He left home and moved across another town. Soon he saw no one who had known him on both sides of the accident. Soon no one he knew knew.

Puzzlehead. Soft skull. These and other descriptions occured to him. He didn’t tell her. Not before the wedding or after. He felt inarticulate. Foolish. Defensive. He wasn’t a realist. Had no interest in an objective statement of his life. She couldn’t tell so why should he?