Brian Evenson on Percival Everett’s Telephone (Graywolf Press, 2020)

Everett has long been one of the least predictable of American writers, with each book crafting its own dwelling within the borderland between literary and innovative fiction. Telephone is Everett's most ambitious book to date, partly because it was simultaneously published in three different versions, with very slight differences in the cover of each version.  Each version follows Zach Wells, an African American paleobiologist. Faced with the deterioration of his only child because of a rare disease, a student's crush on him, and a colleague's struggle to get tenure, Wells feels helpless.  When he discovers mysterious notes in clothing he's bought off eBay, he sets out on. Wells's voice and attitude is laconically comic in a way that reminds me of my own Western upbringing, but the strength of the book is the way that even as it experiments formally it never slackens its exploration of grief and pain. It's a genuinely human book that nevertheless effectively experiments, and a major book by one of our best contemporary writers. 

Brian Evenson is the author of over a dozen books of fiction, most recently Song for the Unraveling of the World. He lives in Los Angeles and teaches at CalArts.