For fans of Joshua Cohen and Ben Lerner, After James captures the dystopian strangeness of our current world.
A neuroscientist walks out of her life and isolates herself in the woods, intending to blow the whistle on a pharmaceutical company and its creativity drug gone wrong. A recently orphaned graduate school dropout is hired as a “literary detective” to decode the work of a mysterious Internet poet who writes about disappearances and murders with an inexplicably precise knowledge of private details. And a virologist discovers her identity has been stolen by a conceptual artist in whose stories someone always goes missing. Ali, James, and Celia exist in worlds where implausibilities that once belonged to science fiction, ancient superstition, or dystopian visions are real or impending.
Set in great cities, remote regions, and deadly borderlands, Michael Helm’s groundbreaking novel, After James, is told in three parts, each gesturing toward a type of genre fiction: the gothic horror, the detective novel, and the apocalyptic. Science and art become characters, and secrets form, hidden in the codes of genetic sequences, poems, and the patterns of political violence. Part to part, elements repeat—otherworldly weather, disturbing artwork, buried corpses—and amid these echoes, a larger mystery arises, one that joins artifice to nature, and fiction to reality, delivering us into the troubling wonder of the present world.
In After James, Michael Helm brings his acute, soulful intelligence to bear on the question of how we live now. He powerfully evokes the isolation embedded in our relentless hyper-connectedness. He gives us his lonely, disappearing people through a dazzling and intricate array of fictional lenses. The global and the local collapse and expand again. Language reveals its particulate secrets. Patterns are noted (or imagined). He shows us the poignancy in our human need to make sense and the distortions that come from our endless desire for answers.
—Dana Spiotta, author of INNOCENTS AND OTHERS
AFTER JAMES reminds me of the best of Hawthorne and Poe–Helm crafts a masterful novel with characters whose realities melt around them. Unreliable narrators are child’s play to him: what he creates so vividly are unreliable worlds, stitched together with the creeping assertion that the objects of our perception may be as deceptive as our minds.
—Tristan Charles, Parnassus Books
Michael Helm’s dazzlyingly creative work almost defies categorization. A novel in three distinct, seemingly (or not) unrelated parts, told from different points of view by unreliable narrators with waking dreams. I reveled in the language and the mystery and let it wash over me as I did Kate Atkinson’s LIFE AFTER LIFE.
—Marion Abbott, Mrs. Dalloways