All fake everything
The world is everything that is the case.
Unless, that is, you’re stuck spending time in Trude, the fictional city at the heart of debut author Eric Lundgren’s novel The Facades. Once considered the “Munich of the Midwest” in the late 1890s, the place “still looks beautiful on a map,” but the next century would prove to be most barbarous to its one beautiful feats of architectural wonder.
Grand hotels, windowed with cardboard, still advertised ten-dollar rooms on their outer walls. Decrepit mansions hung on the boulevards, spattered with graffiti. Money, with its gaseous tendencies to rise and escape, drifted to the suburbs of Sherwood Forest and New Arcadia.
It’s here, within the elusive borders of this crumbling city where A doesn’t always equal A, that Sven Norberg walks the streets night after night, his “pockets jammed with evidence bags,” hoping to stumble upon some clue that will unlock the mystery behind his famous wife’s recent disappearance.
The local police, who rely more on the prescient fragments of dream knowledge provided to them by an officer known only as “The Oracle” than they do on actual detective work, have hit a brick wall in their investigation. The shotgun toting, librarians turned terrorists, who are protesting a complete shutdown of their beloved institutions due to a lack of funding, are of little to no help. The local arts and entertainment editor, one of the last people to see Sven’s opera singing wife Molly Norberg alive, only communicates potentially useful information by way of cryptic acrostics.
In other words, solving this particular mystery won’t be an easy undertaking.
To his credit though, Lundgren wisely chooses to let those paying careful attention to detail off the hook about halfway through the novel. This moment of relief comes during a flashback scene that’s set at the Halloween party where the couple in question initially became introduced to one another.
“What are you?” asked the fish in the red sweatsuit, approaching.
“I’m the dictionary,” I said, crinkling as I made room for her. I reeked of glue. “And you’re a red herring?”
That’s right, the first time Sven meets Molly she’s “wearing a red sweatsuit and a gray plastic fish head.” She even goes so far as to state that “nobody’s getting it.” However, if her disappearance is merely an event that’s designed to draw the reader’s attention away from the true issue at hand, then what’s really going on here? What is it that we should be focusing on instead? As every increasingly bizarre confrontation between Sven and the inhabitants of Trude continues to dole out even more potential clues, attempting to answer that question can quickly become an all-encompassing, maddeningly delightful affair. After all, how can you possibly hope to interpret the evidence you’re being presented with when you’re not even sure of the case that you’re attempting to solve?
Equally as affirming is the idea of Sven as a dictionary — a book that’s sole purpose is to list words and provide their meaning — for it’s through Sven’s eyes that each new detail about the strange city of Trude and her inhabitants is revealed. He serves as a well informed, but perhaps not always well intentioned guide to this wondrously damaged location.
What exactly is the point of the exercise though?
On the one hand The Facades could be considered a tale of a fractured family. Increasing desperate to distance himself from his father, Sven and Molly’s teenage son Kyle becomes enveloped by the loving embrace of a group of fundamentalists known as the First Church of the Divine Purpose shortly after his mother’s disappearance. On the other, it could be thought of as the sad story of a self-defeating man who continually distracts himself with studies on architectural design and the search for his missing spouse in a desperate attempt to thwart any type of self-revelatory moments from ever occurring. Imagine for a second what would happen if we actually told ourselves the truth about ourselves and you’ll immediately understand why we rarely do.
Inspired by the artistry of Italo Calvino, Paul Auster, Gert Jonke and David Lynch, Lundgren’s wonderfully layered, descriptive prose invents a city that is a major character in and of itself, one whose exploration clearly takes precedence over delving into the complicated motivations and actions of those who live within its boundaries. This flipping of the expected script finds Trude forever driving the action forward, with her peculiar denizens relegated to the backseat, unable to wrest control from her formidable grasp.
Trude’s heart might beat wrong, but it certainly beats strong. Lundgren does an impressive job of navigating this city’s landscape of fractured dreams and strange occurrences while still managing the impressive feat of keeping all of its inhabitants strongly grounded in their humanity. Many will be falsely lured in by the promise of a sleek, off-kilter who-done-it, but its Lundgren’s massively appealing knack for building the quirkiest of worlds that’s sure to keep them reading until the very last sentence.
The case is everything that is the world.
Eric Lundgren’s debut novel, The Facades, takes readers on a peculiar and illusory journey through the fictional Midwestern town of Trude. Once a thriving city of architectural wonder and a hot destination for tourists and travelers, Trude is now a shell of its former existence. Designed by a quirky architect named Bernhard, Trude has many constructional wonders, including a shopping mall designed in a maze formation. It is rumored that there is a secret to unlocking the maze’s code, but thus far, no one has accomplished this feat. And while the town also has some impressively designed libraries, the city forced their doors to close long ago, but the books are heavily guarded by guerrilla librarians wielding shotguns. Yeah, it’s a strange place.
Nowadays, if you want to do anything besides shopping in Trude, you can attend one of the city’s many opera performances, which are still held in high regard by residents. But when the novel opens, Trude’s most famous and beloved opera singer, Molly, has disappeared. Narrated by Molly’s husband, Sven, the story quickly morphs from a traditional mystery into a shimmering, multi-faceted exploration of marriage, grief, parenthood, art, architecture, philosophy, addiction and sex.
As Sven relives memories of his former life with Molly, his current existence slowly slips away. So focused on their past, Sven often neglects his fatherly duties of raising their teenage son. Instead, his days are spent swimming through obsessive thoughts clouded by alcohol and cigarette smoke. With increasing paranoia and depression, Sven becomes like his city – a facade of promise, yet a cold and hollow interior.
What feels at first like chaos quickly takes the shape of a grand literary infrastructure – well-designed with character mazes, trap door plot points and a labyrinth of histories and motivations. Unlike Bernhard, Lundgren does not suggest a key to solving the great mystery of Molly’s disappearance or the even greater mystery of Trude, itself. Reading The Facades is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle with no corner pieces – not impossible by any means, but slightly maddening. Yes, the full picture still presents itself eventually, but the puzzle will always remain unsolved, incomplete, and devalued. This, in essence, is Sven’s story. He’s a jigsaw puzzle who may never find his own corner pieces. And as hard as it is to leave a story unfinished, Lundgren leaves us no choice. Because if we find a key to the labyrinth of Trude, then we would be able to leave. It’s a difficult concept to articulate, but just read the story…And if you happen to find any corner pieces to this elaborate literary puzzle along the way, please do let me know.
By Eric Lundgren
The Overlook Press