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CATHERINE LACEY reads from her new novel PEW, in conversation with JONATHAN LETHEM

Pew (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) 

In a small unnamed town in the American South, a church congregation arrives to a service and finds a figure asleep on a pew. The person is genderless, racially ambiguous, and refuses to speak. One family takes the strange visitor in and nicknames them Pew.

As the town spends the week preparing for a mysterious Forgiveness Festival, Pew is shuttled from one household to the next. The earnest and seemingly well-meaning townspeople see conflicting identities in Pew, and many confess their fears and secrets to them in one-sided conversations. Pew listens and observes while experiencing brief flashes of past lives or clues about their origins. As days pass, the void around Pew’s presence begins to unnerve the community, whose generosity erodes into menace and suspicion. Yet by the time Pew’s story reaches a shattering and unsettling climax at the Forgiveness Festival, the secret of their true nature—as a devil or an angel or something else entirely—is dwarfed by even larger truths.

Pew, Catherine Lacey’s third novel, is a foreboding, provocative, and amorphous fable about the world today: its contradictions, its flimsy morality, and the limits of judging others based on their appearance. With precision and restraint, one of our most beloved and boundary-pushing writers holds up a mirror to her characters’ true selves, revealing something about forgiveness, perception, and the faulty tools society uses to categorize human complexity.

Advanced Praise

"[A] haunting fable about morality and self-delusion . . . Lacey—spare and elegant as ever—creates a story that feels at the same time mythological and arrestingly like life. Darkly playful; a warning without a moral." --Kirkus (starred review)

"An ambitious, powerful fable of identity and belief . . . Lacey’s talent shines in this masterful work, her best yet." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Lacey's quietly provocative novel is brilliantly composed. She shines a light on the complexity of humans and the dangers of judging and categorizing others based on appearance, as Pew’s ambiguity reveals the true nature of her characters." --Booklist

“The mercurial and electric Catherine Lacey has now conjured up an of-the-moment fable of trauma and projection – one part Kaspar Hauser, one part James Purdy, and one part Rachel Cusk. The pages shimmer with implication.” --Jonathan Lethem, author of The Feral Detective

“I consumed Pew. It is the electric charge we need.” --Daisy Johnson, author of Everything Under

Catherine Lacey is the author of the novels Nobody Is Ever Missing and The Answers, and the short story collection Certain American States. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, and a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship. She was a finalist for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award, and was named one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in The New YorkerHarper’s MagazineThe New York TimesThe Believer, and elsewhere. Born in Mississippi, she is based in Chicago. Pew will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on May 12, 2020.

Jonathan Lethem is the author of eleven novels, including Girl In Landscape and The Fortress of Solitude. His fifth, Motherless Brooklyn, won the National Book Critic’s Circle Award. A Macarthur Fellow in 2005, Lethem’s writing has been translated into over thirty languages, and his stories and essays collected in five volumes. His twelfth novel, The Arrest, will be published by Ecco in November.

Event date: 
Friday, June 12, 2020 - 7:30pm
Event address: 
1818 N Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
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