That sense of threat — sexual, physical, psychological — is heightened by at least two parallel stories unfolding alongside, or perhaps it’s better to say inside, the primary narrative of the visitor. Another involves a wealthy woman who takes in a suicidal seamstress. The seamstress has a son raised inside the harsh circumstances of her life. Among the boy’s pastimes were imagining himself a spider, “hanging from a thread’s length down a wall.” Eventually the boy grows up: “If we should try imagining the raw intensity of the feelings of that child/a man now,” Unrue writes, leaving the sentence unfinished, fraught with foreboding. After all, someone is missing, bodies have been sighted — or dreamed, and off our narrator goes to the “Love Hotel’’ in search of an unnamed someone.
A third story, unscrolled in italicized bursts embedded in the other stories, seems to be about a farmer who watches his sons turning into wolves, and worse. The anxiety created by these grim unfoldings is further exacerbated by the book’s bold and deliberately intricate style, composed as it often is of fragments, interrupted sentences occasionally broken into lines, as in a poem.
In fact, Unrue, whose previous books include poetry, stories, a novella, and the haunting short novel “Life of a Star’’ — deftly undercuts our desire for the security and definitiveness of genre. To experience the luxurious power of “Love Hotel,’’ the reader must himself become a bit of a somnambulist, surrendering to its circular movements and recursively broken narratives without hoping for the usual consolations of fiction: recognizable characters with familiar psychological profiles and problems. Life isn’t quite as obvious as that, Unrue seems to say.
The poet and Dante translator Laurence Binyon once observed that “slowness is beauty.” With its fragments and elipses, “Love Hotel” is determined to force us off the tracks of the bullet train that is everyday reading in our post-haste society. Here the mystery isn’t confined to figuring out who done it. The novel instead asks a more profound and murkier question: What exactly do we think happened?