Fa­mous Men Who Never Lived

K Chess

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER

Tin House Books (MARCH) Hard­cover $22.95 (324pp) 978-1-947793-24-8

K Chess’s mag­nif­i­cent spec­u­la­tive novel Fa­mous Men Who Never Lived strad­dles two among in­fi­nite worlds, “start­ing off the same and hurtling to two wholly dif­fer­ent fates.” It is an awe­some and hum­bling lit­er­ary achieve­ment.

In the world that Hel, Vikram, and over two hun­dred thou­sand other uni­ver­sally dis­placed peo­ple left be­hind, nu­clear ex­plo­sions were im­pe­tus enough to step through a por­tal into the un­known. They found them­selves in a world not ter­ri­bly dif­fer­ent from their own: ac­tive, trou­bled, and hos­tile to out­siders, though also alive with art and pos­si­bil­i­ties.

In the two years that fol­lowed, some of the UDPS, like Vikram, ad­justed, if as sec­ond-class ci­ti­zens of re­duced for­tunes. Hel—a spe­cial­ized sur­geon in her own world—lives off of gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance and de­vours Vikram’s relics in search of peace, par­tic­u­larly nov­els by au­thors who were never au­thors in this strange new place. One such au­thor, Ezra Sleight, may be the key to de­ter­min­ing where the two time­lines di­verged, and it’s a pos­si­bil­ity that con­sumes Hel’s hours.

Chess’s pages are ele­giac as much as they are in­ven­tive and hope­ful. Our world, seen through UDP eyes, is a place of yaw­ing holes— mu­si­cal notes that never trilled; sto­ries never told; beloved and im­por­tant peo­ple whom fate car­ried into ob­scu­rity or obliv­ion. Her char­ac­ters peek be­neath the rip­ples in the mul­ti­verse, prob­ing per­me­able di­men­sions for deeper truths.

The text is tri­umphant, darkly hu­mor­ous, and mourn­ful by turns, as with a re­sent­ful UDP who takes to in­vent­ing cus­toms to si­lence the al­wayshere: where she’s from, she tells peo­ple, they carry cats ev­ery­where, and drink blood, and slap corpses to be sure.

Peo­ple prove to be both cred­u­lous and awk­ward in the face of the un­know­able. As its char­ac­ters grasp for a con­crete place to rest in a world that ever di­verges from its set paths, Fa­mous Men Who Never Lived is mes­mer­iz­ing.

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