Liberating the Canon - an edited anthology capturing the contemporary emergence of radically innovative and non-conforming forms of literature in the UK and US

Liberating The Canon: An Anthology of Innovative Literature: Amazon.co.uk:  Waidner, Isabel: 9781999924508: Books

Liberating The Canon: An Anthology of Innovative Literature, Ed. by Isabel Waidner, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2018.

"If there were a literary avant-garde that were relevant now, it would be what the queers and their allies are doing, at the intersections, across disciplines. This avant-garde would be inclusive, racially and culturally diverse, migrants galore, predominately but not exclusively working-class, transdisciplinary, (gender)queer and politically clued up (left)." - Isabel Waidner

Liberating the Canon is an edited anthology capturing the contemporary emergence of radically innovative and non-conforming forms of literature in the UK and US. Historically, sociopolitical marginalisation and avant-garde aesthetics have not come together in UK literature, counterintuitively divorcing outsider experience and formal innovation. Bringing together intersectional identity and literary innovation, LTC is designed as an intervention against the normativity of literary publishing contexts and the institution 'Innovative Literature' as such. More widely, if literature, any literature, can act as a mode of cultural resistance and help imagine a more progressive politics in Tory Britain and beyond, it is this.

Edited by Isabel Waidner, Liberating the Canon includes contributors working at the intersections of prose, poetry, art, performance, indie publishing and various subcultural contexts:
Mojisola Adebayo, Jess Arndt (US), Jay Bernard, Richard Brammer, Victoria Brown, Seabright D.Mortimer, SJ Fowler, Juliet Jacques, Sara Jaffe (US), Roz Kaveney, R. Zamora Linmark (US), Mira Mattar, Nat Raha, Nisha Ramayya, Rosie Snajdr, Timothy Thornton, Isabel Waidner, Joanna Walsh and Eley Williams.

So I’m sitting here at looking at my copy of Liberating the Canon: An Anthology of Innovative Literature and feeling sick when I think about whether or not I can, or should, write about it. Which makes it sound like I did not enjoy the book. Or that it is not worth reading. I did. And it is.

But, can I talk about the way it also twists me up inside? That a book that I should connect with on a level beyond the written word leaves me wondering if there is a space for me? On the back cover (which on my copy is terribly warped after a fall on snow-covered ice landed me with a concussion) editor Isabel Waidner is quoted:

If there were a literary avant-garde that were relevant now, it would be what the queers and their allies are doing, at the intersections, across disciplines. This avant-garde would be inclusive, racially and culturally diverse, migrants galore, predominately but not exclusively working-class, transdisciplinary, (gender)queer and politically clued up (left).

I like the sound of this. But is this what the queers and their allies are doing? Possibly. I am the ineptest (gosh I didn’t even know “ineptest” was a word, but Word suggested it and I kind of like it) queer writer ever because, off the page, queer is the loneliest reality I’ve ever known, and the many queer writers included here seem to have lives in which their queerness is essential, not accidental. And that makes me feel as alienated as my real life adventures in queer spaces do. I’m awfully pasty white and ordinary, and although my mother’s family were, at one time, potato famine refugees from Ireland, and I was not born in the country where I live, I am a migrant on an axis other than the here-to-there displacement in space. The only true migration I have ever made—the one that I am always making—is the one from female to male.

And I am not even certain how to think about “working class.” If it’s about wage-labour, a blue- and pink- collar, and sometimes white collar existence, then for the exception of about one decade of my life, I’m your man. But I’ve always preferred to think of myself as under-employed, as if the status was temporary, collarless. Over-educated. Just barely keeping my head above poverty level. You know: What are you going to do with an arts degree? Or two? When things are good where I live, blue collar workers can haul in six-figure incomes. Classless, misfit, my work-life fits into no definable category.

At 57, I’m not even under-employed any more. I’m not employed at all. And too old to start over. (Which leads me to wonder, while we’re being all diverse and intersectional, where disability lies in this re-invigorated literary avant-garde.)

But, enough wound-nursing and equivocating. Back to the task at hand.

I do love the idea of literature that is innovative, experimental, and breaks boundaries especially in my arena, that of the essay/memoir. And, did I mention that nowhere in Isabel’s detailed and entertaining introduction (check it out, if you want, at 3:AM) does that over-used term “genre-bending” appear? The writing she invites the reader to envision, “itself must transgress the various structures through which the avant-garde literary canon has perpetuated itself and its exclusiveness.” Okay, now we’re talking. She goes on to say:

To reiterate, the writing needs to work across various systems of oppression (intersectionality), across formal distinction (prose and poetry, critical and creative, and the various genres), and across disciplines. Same goes for publishing, editing, reading, referencing and designing curricula. Change literature (or what is defined as such) and the discipline will diversify. Diversify the discipline and the literature itself will change. Liberating the canon depends on inclusion and formal innovation in equal measures. The two are interrelated.

And the question then becomes: Just how liberated is this canon? How much of a meaningful advancement have we made toward this ambitious goal by the selections gathered in this anthology?

Honestly, I am not so sure. (Maybe I am.)

I already tend to read a fair amount of innovative literature, and have admitted to a hunger for work that pushes the confines of literary style and form, so the more experimental pieces really, uh, turn me on. The contributions from Mojilsola Abedayo, Joanna Walsh, Isabel Waidner, Timothy Thornton, Mira Mattar, Nisha Ramayyar, Richard Brammer (cheating I skipped this having already the entire book from whence it came) and Nat Raha were, for me, standouts. The most explicitly trans pieces were my least favourite, pushing subject more than form, but as an idiosyncratic, fickle reader—a body dysmorphic, ex-gender dysphoric soul—I am looking for a transvant-garde that speaks to trans in a way that would make me say “HELL, YES.”

This canon still needs to be loosened a little further, I suppose. Or rather, the liberation is just starting.

This book could be considered a primer. An Anglophone primer. An anthology of primarily UK based writers with a few US contributors tossed in for good measure. How about round two? With a glance to Canada (where I am), Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, and desi (South Asian and diaspora) writers.

Ah, one can dream. But if this book can exist, anything is possible.

So, there you have it. I have written about Liberating the Canon without really writing about any of the varied pieces contained within. You’ll have to read it, if you dare. Or desire. Or are simply curious.

It’s worth the risk.



David Hollander - A genre-defying mindbender of a novel with a darkly comic take on the creation and destruction of human life

David Hollander, Anthropica, Animal Riot Press, 2020.


excerpt 2

A Hungarian fatalist convinced that the human race is a blemish on God's otherwise beautiful universe; a statistician who has determined that we completely exhaust the earth's resources every 30 days; a failing novelist whose nihilistic fiction has doomed her halfhearted quest for tenure; an Ultimate Frisbee-playing man-child who has discovered a fractal pattern contained within all matter, but is nevertheless obsessed with the chase for a National Championship; a banished race of mole people preparing for a violent uprising; a factory filled with human heads being mined for information; a former philosophy professor with ALS who has discovered, as he becomes "locked in," that he can make things happen simply by wanting them badly enough; and a trio of vengeful, superintelligent robots secretly imprisoned in an underground hangar in Iksan, South Korea, patiently waiting for some gullible human(s) to release them. This is a partial cast of Anthropica, a novel that puts Laszlow Katasztrófa's beautiful vision of a universe without us to the test. Because even if Laszlow believes that he is merely an agent of fate, a cog in God's inscrutable machine, he's nevertheless the one driving this crazy machine. And once he has his team assembled, it turns out that he might-against all odds and his own expectations-actually have the tools to see his apocalyptic plan to fruition.

“David Hollander's gorgeous hyperbolic prose voice contains a great many things, for example, a horror about the excesses of the contemporary, and a fearlessness about accepting all of these excesses. Beneath the syntactical dazzle, that is, Hollander sees like a visionary and he feels like an empath. Anthropica is more evidence of his tragic and tragicomic excellence.” -- Rick Moody, Author of Hotels of North America and The Ice Storm

"Anthropica is that rare, category-defying book that is pure enchantment: structurally dazzling, philosophically profound, slyly funny, and stealthily moving. This is a book to read and read again, discovering deeper levels every time." -- Dawn Raffel, Author of The Strange Case of Dr. Couney and The Secret Life of Objects

“What a pleasure to watch a writer of David Hollander's gifts really "lay out" (to employ the ultimate Frisbee parlance of one of his protagonists), to put it all on the line in service to this majestic mysterious artifact, this deeply felt and sometimes madcap Moebius strip of a book. Anthropica is a philosophically vibrant and profoundly funny novel, and a good old-fashioned systems yarn to boot. Space-time, Earth-life, and human (and inhuman) desire and meaning have a worthy bard in David Hollander, and existence gets its dark, beautiful due in this rapturous work.” - Sam Lipsyte, Author of The Ask and Venus Drive

"Anthropica is like the NYTimes crossword on Monday: a little bit difficult but entirely rewarding. Difficult because it mirrors back the dire state of our world, and rewarding because of the sentence-by-sentence beauty, the crisp creation of characters, the masterful interior voices, the fully-imagined, willing world, the smooth soft underbelly of the story with its sparkling viscera hanging out. Plus, it's funny." -- Jo Ann Beard, Author of The Boys of My Youth and In Zanesville

“David Hollander's Anthropica is equal parts Goldberg Variations and Rube Goldberg machine—every slotted sentence holds a surprise. It's a dizzying counterpointer and amplifier and constellatory of voices, a mad music box where his stunning, skilled absurdism laughs as it aches and mostly just sings some of the most beautiful songs.” - David Ryan, Author of Animals in Motion and Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano: Bookmarked.

Plot, character, setting and theme. These are the four elements that the novelist John Hawkes described as the “enemies of fiction,” going on to say that once he’d abandoned such constraints, “totality of vision or structure was really all that remained.” Hawkes, who might be best known for his novel The Lime Twig (1961), was attempting to initiate an evolution out of a certain kind of formalism that had dominated literature until that point. This evolution we sometimes call Postmodernism, and the style that upheld the primacy of “vision” was taken up by Donald Barthelme, John Barthes, Robert Coover and Rick Moody on the American side, and writers like Thomas Bernhard and László Krasznahorkai on the European.

I would be hard-pressed to summarize neatly any of the novels written by the above authors, and the same is true of David Hollander’s new novel, Anthropica (Animal Riot Press, 2020) which takes the Hawkean declaration to heart. I could tell you, for example, that there are several protagonists: a statistician named Stuart Dregs, who discovers that humankind exhausts the Earth’s natural resources every eight days, a discovery that leads him to the “Anthropica Theory,” which states that the universe continues to exists only because humanity wants it to; there’s Finn Daily, an Ultimate Frisbee player who simultaneously discovers a crab-shaped fractal pattern that underwrites the architecture of all matter in the universe; a Hungarian doom-prophet named Laszlow Katasztrófa, author of Exit Strategy, a plot to harness the two aforementioned discoveries to bring about the end of the world; and Grace Kitchen, a writing professor at an east coast liberal arts college, who has a fatal romance with Laszlow. Add in a Three Stooges gang of intelligent robots, a genderbending humanoid named Joyful Noise! and a structural game in which several characters believe themselves to be the author of Anthropica itself, and you’ll have some idea of what Hollander’s novel is about.

Hollander’s first and last novel, L.I.E., which is an exploration of consciousness and the concept of the Self, was published in 2001. In an interview with Seth Katz in The Millions, Hollander revealed that L.I.E. was roundly rejected, but it was serendipitously picked out of a slush pile because his name resembled another author’s. The novel generated a bidding war and was soon picked up by Random House, which ran a generous first printing. However, once it appeared that sales would not meet projections, the printing was scaled back, and what was supposed to be a national book tour was confined to the New York area.

Over the next twenty years, Hollander wrote three more manuscripts that were all rejected by mainstream publishers, who were becoming increasingly cramped and uncomfortable with “difficult fiction.” Hollander himself acknowledges that his obsession with difficulty was status-seeking, a trap that many a vain young writer can fall into. Anthropica is likely to be described by some readers as “difficult,” but unlike his previous books, Hollander said that Anthropica was more of a fun project for himself and his close friends, and for the first year or so of its development, he was convinced he wouldn’t publish it. Spurred on by his agent, Hollander worked on the novel for another two years before sending it out. It too was met with rejection. The novel then lay dormant for several years until Animal Riot Press, founded by two of Hollander’s former students, offered to publish it.

Since Anthropica blends several stylistic elements––science fiction, dystopia, philosophy, and social realism––it shouldn’t come as a surprise that no publishers found it marketable, which is the chief metric of a book’s value. And yet it should surprise us, because the novel is a sprawling and ambitious force, a mobius strip of fiction whose virtues are impossible to ignore

Anthropica is at its heart a book driven by language––specifically, the ways in which language can start to feel like a container for ideas and experience, leaving one writhing to break free of its determinism. Indeed, all characters in the novel, in one way or another, are driven by this Desire––Desire being the perpetual motion machine that powers the universe itself, which is the foundation of the “Anthropica Theory,” described thusly:

Anthropica didn’t mean that the world was broken. It meant that the world could not be changed. It meant that it was only here because we wanted it to be. It meant the worst thing of all: it would go on and on, evolving toward nothing and unbeholden to anything. Christ, talk about depressing.

Given its subject, the reader might expect the novel to be grim and fatalistic. What it achieves rather is a smiling nihilism, nicely aphorized as: “Everything you do is unimportant, but it is very important that you do it.” Hollander has described this as “the toggle,” switching back and forth between impossibly meaningful experiences in an otherwise utterly meaningless world, and the novel’s dialectical movements dramatize this beautifully.

Without giving too much away, the realization of Anthropica’s corollary––that the universe can be destroyed if Desire is eliminated––is made possible by the intersection of several characters––Finn, Dregs, and Grace Kitchen’s father Henry, an ALS-ridden man bound to slow death in a wheelchair, who discovers he can make things happen simply by wanting them bad enough. Laszlow, the orchestrator of this apocalyptic symphony, brings the cast together in the eponymous fallout facility Exit Strategy, located in Iksan Korea along the 35th parallel, together with what is known as “the Consciousness Factory.”

As with L.I.E., consciousness, and the feeling of being “locked inside” consciousness, is a central theme. In this case, Henry is literally locked in, Dregs, who eventually achieves a kind of disembodied state, remains locked in, and a cheeky robot known as Fexo, who might be self-aware, gives us a glimpse of what an artificial consciousness might look like under the same constraints.

Hollander manages all of this by virtue of speed and elegance. Anthropica is a novel that does not slow down, and it is driven by the strength of its prose. Hollander’s sentences are often rushing and headlong, requiring operatic breaths if being read aloud. The prose is consistently beautiful, and lines like this––

He was the weapons-grade plutonium of wanting…

And like this––

The dog leapt beneath a neon sign that flared brightly and blinded them with its jubilant ruby light before going suddenly dark here at the bottom of the world, here at this entrance to a life without end.

––appear on almost every page. Hollander can clearly stand with the best of his contemporaries as a stylist. Anthropica’s prose is close and almost always internalized in its respective character’s point-of-view, giving it the quality of a long modulating inner-monologue, but the briefness of the chapters and some forays into strict dialogue/transcript sections keep the style from cloying.

The Nabokovian dictum to dazzle is definitely on display here. However, the Nabokovian ethic—that the style should be beautiful and effortless, easily bringing the reader through the world it fashions––is somewhat at odds in Hollander’s novel. Hollander can dazzle, certainly, but it comes with some demands. A beautiful style can bring you in and make you marvel, or place you at distance, and the challenge for any writer, regardless of style, is to find the balance. Some of the writers mentioned above, like Bernhard or Krasznahorkai, sacrifice a certain ease of reading for sake of the “totality of vision,” and their style could easily be described as “alienating.” Hollander manages largely to achieve the balance, though not without pressure at points. For all of Anthropica’s thematic heaviness and philosophical musings, nonetheless remains a darkly funny and entertaining read, and like the same crab-shaped fractal upon which it is built, it will twist and expand your sense of what fiction can do. - 

Jared Marcel Pollen


David Hollander’s Anthropica is a collection of stories between characters that intertwine with each other in unusual ways. The word Anthropica that Hollander uses is from the word anthropic, which means: relating to human beings or the period of their existence on earth; the Anthropic Principle sums up the premise of Anthropica. Included in this book are characters such as novelists, philosophical thinkers, robots, mole-people, and Ultimate-frisbee players. Each of these characters develops higher thinking throughout the story and seeks to discover the truth of our existence.

Honestly, I was confused during much of the story. The audience should be mature adults who enjoy and are familiar with the style of writing from Hollander. I didn’t appreciate the continuous use of foul language and sexual dialogue included in nearly every character’s story; I understand that this is a style of writing that is familiar and normal to some readers, but not for me. There are many references to God and religion throughout the story; it was unclear to me whether the characters (the author) were for or against Him. I felt the text was wordy, but I understand that for readers who appreciate descriptions and detail, they will enjoy this book. - Rachel Dehning


The scope of the planet can feel overwhelming: mountains, oceans, deserts, jungles, rivers, caverns, continents all stretching over thousands of miles. Add the human race—nearly eight billion of us on a single rock, living and dying, consuming and propagating, exponentially draining the planet of its resources—and the world seems that much more immense. Or that much more impossible. How can such an organism sustain itself?

That question forms the basis for Anthropica, a new novel by David Hollander (or by one of three competing metafictional writers), forthcoming from Animal Riot Press. The book responds to the absurdity of human life with an equally absurd proposition: that the world functions simply because we, as a collective species, want it to. A madcap troupe of characters ranging from university professors to Ultimate Frisbee champions to an ancient race of lobster-clawed, subterranean goons react to the discovery of the Anthropica principle in this compelling, quasi-philosophical dark comedy. Oh, and there are robots.

“Anthropica didn’t mean that the world was broken. It meant that the world could not be changed. It meant that it was only here because we wanted it to be. It meant the worst thing of all: it would go on and on, evolving toward nothing and unbeholden to anything. Christ, talk about depressing.”

At the core are two antiheroes, Grace Kitchen and Finn Daily. Grace is a professor of creative writing who hates her students and somehow thinks she deserves tenure despite her inability to publish. Finn is a doctoral student in mathematics and an Ultimate Frisbee junkie. Working on a theorem as useless as anything in the humanities, Finn stumbles on the secret of the universe, what he terms the God Fractal, a pattern that exists throughout all of the material world. He simply doesn’t know what to do with the revelation—and would rather train for the Ultimate championships anyway, though that becomes more complicated when he is seduced by his teammate’s mother.

And that’s only the first few chapters.

Grace and Finn cross paths thanks to Exit Strategy, a terrorist group bent on destroying all human life. Exit Strategy’s leader sees Finn as a sort of prophet and Grace as the chronicler of their resistance, writing the only book that matters (which may be the same book the reader holds in their hands). Then there are other cast members: Grace’s invalid father, Finn’s girlfriend, an ancient being posing as Grace’s competition for tenure, a sad-sack scientist on to the mystery of Anthropica, and heads in glass jars. Not to mention the robots. And innumerable vultures.

“In the same sense that all humans are candidates for sexual encounters with celebrities and supermodels, Grace was a candidate for tenure at the New School for Global Visions in Manhattan, where she taught fiction writing to writers who sought to teach fiction writing to writers, the absurdity of this infinite regress not lost on Grace Kitchen, who was painfully aware that—Animal Riot Press not withstanding—the market for actual writing (and actual reading) had already faded into the cultural microwave radiation background.”

All of this is delightfully high-concept and, trust me, makes as much sense as it can. It is nearly impossible to summarize the novel in a handful of paragraphs, let alone a single impression or effect. A number of readings are possible, but at some point, the reader must simply suspend a healthy amount of disbelief, sit back, and enjoy the ride.

As dark as the novel is, it never quite gives in to the melancholy that its ironic and absurd elements could suggest. Anthropica can be cynical, particularly when satirizing identity politics, but moments of humanity shine through the nihilism and sarcasm: a naïve college student becomes suddenly sympathetic, a crudely-described outsider acts as a transcendent source of unity, a moment of personal triumph turns into a scornful rebuke. One of Hollander’s gifts is his ability to reverse course without coming across as inconsistent. He will skew to a new perspective that leaves the reader with a breakthrough of empathy, suggesting that excessive cynicism could itself be the satirical target.

But make no mistake: this is not a touchy-feely novel. The plot unravels in tangents that often switch narrator and format, coming just shy of forming a cohesive, satisfying whole. That, in itself, is satisfying. In a book about (in part) our need for meaning, and the meaninglessness of our need for meaning, a fragmentary structure is appropriate. We can grasp at enlightenment but never achieve it. Yet we’ll want to try again, to read again. And those heights that we feel might just also be our lows; indeed, these characters are at their best and their worst when they are unashamedly or unknowingly self-centered.

“The God Fractal, as an idea, was Finn’s latest and most ambitious effort to deliver meaning to the tumult of unforeseeable consequences we called Life, something he’d been trying to do since he was a boy growing up inside a subdivision’s rectangular cage which, when viewed from the window of a passenger jet or attack helicopter or other airborne apparatus, when seen, that is, in the larger context of its many surrounding subdivisions, linked one to the next by black spokes of asphalt, did indeed resemble nothing so much as a box in a flow chart.”

Part of what makes the novel work is the writer’s voice. Hollander is elevated but not esoteric, dense but not impenetrable. His words and phrasings are so sharp they risk breaking skin. And the guy can write a sentence. Some go on for so long—sometimes a page or more—with so many embedded phrases and clauses you think you’d get lost, but you don’t. Instead, they pick up a rhythm and enthusiasm defying the nihilism of the subject matter. He is, himself, creating a world on the page out of the energy of his own artistic desire.

The universe is us, and we are the universe. Maybe the novel is about perception, the worlds we will into being inside our own brains, metaphoric narratives we create to give us the illusion of purpose. Or maybe it’s an extended analogy of the writer as creator of universes, with his characters vying for control of the text.

Or maybe it’s just about Anthropica. You be the judge.

I’ll leave you with one final image: If you chuckle at the thought of a troupe of characters delivering a propagandistic message through interpretive dance while costumed as giant sperm, this is the book for you. - Nathaniel Drenner

Research Notes by David Hollander


Interview 2

Interview 3


If Anthropica were a small and ramshackle village languishing in the shadow of a jagged and ice-slick mountain that had never once been summited, neither by the villagers whose families had lived in the cold damp creases of this Godforsaken valley for generations nor by the heroes and villains populating the stories those same villagers passed down to their children and grandchildren

L.I.E.: A Novel - Kindle edition by Hollander, David. Literature & Fiction  Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

David Hollander, L.I.E.: A Novel, Villard, 2000.

"At once mordantly funny and achingly sad, L.I.E. is a soul map for modern suburbia." --Sheri Holman

Long Island, New York, 1987: Harlan Kessler--raised in Medford, a product of blue-collar Suffolk County, of housing developments and concrete strip malls--graduates from high school. He hangs out, he parties, he plays guitar for the Dayglow Crazies (the local rock-and-roll phenomenon), and he struggles diligently to lose his virginity. He doesn't think about the future much. The Long Island Expressway (L.I.E.) cleaves the landscape, permitting passage west, to the tonier climes of Nassau County and New York City, but to Harlan, this seems like an impossible journey, something beyond his Long Island birthright. And what's worse, evidence is accumulating that Harlan may not exist at all, that he may merely be a character in someone else's story, a fleeting thought in the mind of God.

L.I.E. follows Harlan, his family, and his friends through two years of love, sex, death, betrayal, salvation, and enlightenment. In ten intimately interwoven stories, in prose that swings fluidly from gritty realism to heightened metafiction, David Hollander maps an American landscape that is at once vividly familiar and highly exotic, creating an unforgettable portrait of the passage to adult-hood and the search for identity, certain to resonate with legions of readers. By turns dark, funny, raw, and elegant, L.I.E. is the striking debut of a singular voice.

The last wisps of afternoon streak and evaporate into blue-gray dusk, submersing Long Island in twilight. Harlan and Rik Giannati sit on the curb outside Rik's house, precisely 211 yards northeast of Harlan's house, the distance punctuated by no fewer than fourteen subtly distinct houses of three ilks: the square, steeple-roofed Granada; the split-level LaSalle; the two-story, three-bedroom Monte Carlo. This last model was the choice of Kessler and Giannati alike some ten years ago when they, too, were assimilated in the mass exodus from Queens to Suffolk County that had gripped the hearts and genitals of so many. The streetlamps began to glow along Rustic Avenue, a cold blue flicker spaced at even intervals, like isolated members of the same species, each shivering in its cage of frosted glass. --From L.I.E.

For some, the Long Island Expressway, the ribbon of highway dubbed L.I.E. by those who live in proximity to it, is a road of possibilities--an escape from stifling suburbia that connects to the wider world. For Harlan Kessler, though, it's more like a noose around his neck. Bereft of the safety net of high school and estranged from his dysfunctional family, Harlan goes from party to party, playing in a band, hanging out with his equally directionless friends, lost in a "post-pubescent identity crisis," with no job, no girl, and, as he frequently moans, "no sex." In blackly humorous episodes as disjointed as Harlan's thoughts and childish longings, Hollander writes compellingly of alienated teens (and screwed-up adults) in the late 1980s, painting a bleak yet affecting portrait of people who struggle to be more than onlookers in life and who, ever so rarely, win the battle. - Stephanie Zvirin

“An entertaining coming-of-age story set in one of America’s legendary weird suburbs . . . Hollander is an inventive writer who manages simultaneously to romanticize and to parody his own experience.” - –The Washington Post

“The landscape of Long Island is a critical presence in the book, and Hollander portrays it with as much vitality and detail as the human characters. . . . One of the best aspects of L.I.E. is that is can be read on several different levels. Sufficiently lighthearted and amusing for casual readers, it contains enough emotional complexity and even tragedy to suit those who long for deeper reading. Those who seek challenge and profundity will find plenty of food for thought in Harlan’s existential dilemma. . . . This unconventional novel [is] a rewarding and entertaining experience.”- The Wellesley News

“Hollander displays a keen eye for the ordinary, capturing teenage discontent and suburban malaise without pretense.” –Gear

Formal innovations are the most interesting features of this rangy first novel, which assembles ten interrelated stories and a brief coda to trace the uneasy maturing of a Long Island teenager.

“L.I.E.” stands for Long Island Expressway, the thoroughfare that bisects the suburban territory inhabited by Harlan Kessler, who's 15 in 1985, the year of the earliest episodes here. Over the next five years, we observe him as an importunate teenager desperate to lose his virginity, high-school jock and amateur rock musician, I.R.S. clerk, and, finally, to his amazement and gratitude, in love with and loved by a beautiful, warmhearted girl named Sarah. Hollander repeatedly employs series of brief parallel scenes juxtaposing various characters' apparently distinct, eventually interconnected actions—most notably in “Dog = God,” the story of a memorable Halloween when Harlan and his then girlfriend almost make love, his parents quarrel at a party and return home unexpectedly, and the Kesslers' beloved mutt Pepper wheezes through his last hours on earth. Other chapters focus on a wild teen party that climaxes with a supposed UFO sighting; a raucous “Sunday Dinner” presented as a one-act play that reimagines Kessler family dynamics as Dickens's A Christmas Carol, TV’s The Honeymooners, and several Beatles songs; and a climactic flurry of "Quotations" from family and friends speculating on the fate of the disappeared Harlan (who either is or isn't still with Sarah and has or hasn't committed suicide). It's a bumpy ride of a book, often sharply observed and intriguing; just as often, flawed by its protagonist's elusive (indeed obscured) personality. We end up not knowing Harlan Kessler very much better at the end of the story than we did at its beginning; if Hollander intended this, the reader can only wonder why.

One finishes L.I.E. both frustrated by its vagueness and, paradoxically, confident that its talented author is capable of better work. - Kirkus Reviews

Dissolution, love and sexual frustration are the driving themes of this debut novel, set on blue-collar Long Island, or ""Wrong Island,"" as its denizens here refer to it. Spanning the last two years of the '80s amid several dead-end towns in Suffolk County, the novel disjointedly follows the painful maturation of Harlan Kessler, a long-haired, guitar-picking 18-year-old who's searching for his life's direction but would settle for losing his virginity. A hilarious opening sequence sets the stage for his fragmented, slapstick journey: the moment before Harlan rids himself of his innocence, his entire family walks in on the teen couple en flagrante. The plot expands to include Harlan's scary brothers and adulterous parents, his loser friends and their dysfunctional families. Harlan's pal, drummer Todd Slatsky, has wild parties at which he plays home movies featuring his father beating up his mother. Harlan's eventual romantic interest, Sarah, is terrified of her mother's new husband, a sleazy coke dealer who supplies the drugs that fuel the mental breakdown of Harlan's friend Beedy. Harlan is the center of this series of increasingly odd episodes, which progress from the depressingly plausible sexual bunglings to scenes of death, destruction and depravity. In an utterly bizarre one-act play set in the middle of the book, the fragmentation of Harlan's brain mirrors the disintegration of his family. The story of Harlan's sad life is rife with the wry asides, ironic italics and narrative tricks much better left to the skills of Dave Eggers, and the novel's conclusion is deeply, unsatisfyingly ambiguous. Hollander's debut is set against a backdrop so bleak that it undermines his otherwise formidable talent for tragic irony and cinematic vision. - Publishers Weekly

Hollander writes in the tradition of the American avant-garde novelists who came up in the 1970's, writers like Robert Coover and Jonathan Baumbach (in fact, the first chapter of L.I.E. is an overt imitation of, and homage to, Coover's story "The Babysitter"). Readers seeking a straightforward plot and naturalistic characters ought to look elsewhere; that's not to say that this book isn't filled with sharp observations about the author's childhood home of Long Island and its various denizens, or about the existential dread that tends to creep over one in adolescence and subsequent years, but merely to emphasize that the self-contaned reality of the story is ruptured at several key points, ushering in questions of the relationship between life and art/fiction and reality, as well as the nature of existence itself. This is a book born of fierce intelligence, a bleak sense of humor, deep-seated despair, and profound philosophical searching.

Hollander has yet to publish another novel, though I have also read and enjoyed some of his short fiction in various literary journals over the years. - Seth Katz @ amazon.com