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   Artist of the Missing, The, by Paul Lafarge  
  Novel, first publication in May 1999
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    Buy Artist of the Missing, The by Paul Lafarge
       Additional Information  
      The most compelling character of The Artist of the Missing isn't Frank, the artist in question, who paints portraits of missing persons. It isn't his brother James, who disappears with Frank's money. Or even the mysterious Prudence, a police photographer who takes pictures of corpses and who herself disappears. The true hero of Paul Lafarge's debut novel is the nameless city itself, in which he sets his fairytale cast adrift. Here the plot (various shady doings and comings and goings) takes a back seat to the sheer brilliance of the setting--menacing, decrepit architecture and twisting cobblestone walkways where Kafka's Josef K would feel entirely at home. Just the kind of urban netherworld where it's as easy for a reader to become as blissfully lost as one of the poor souls who walk its streets.

    The world of The Artist of the Missing is self-contained and operates according to its own skewed, metaphysical principles. There's a university so old that the statues of benefactors crowd its lawn elbow to elbow. Mannequins speak, and police go about the business of investigating homicides with eerie indifference. Posters of the missing appear on nearly every surface, their faces fading reminders of loved ones nobody expects ever to see again. Frank pushes forward with his lonely quest to uncover the city's horrible secrets, and the story follows him, lagging behind once in awhile to take in the gorgeous scenery. As if that weren't enough, illustrator Stephen Alcorn's cubist drawings beautifully compliment the text.

    There's little sense that Frank is real beyond the fairytale hero's guise he inhabits. But that doesn't seem to matter, given the tilt and pitch of Lafarge's elegant, evocative prose. Characters in these kinds of stories are pawns played in a grand game of literary wizardry. These are fictional cities that have been trod before, by Borges, García Márquez, and a bevy of European fantasists from Bruno Schulz to Danilo Kis. Here Lafarge quickly sets up shop and passes easily for a native. A startling, promising debut, The Artist of the Missing succeeds in mapping out the shape-shifting terrain of human loss.

    Source: Ryan Boudinot,

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  • Literary Fantasy

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