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LIVE ON CROWDCAST: CATHERINE LACEY discusses her new novel PEW with JONATHAN LETHEM

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Pew (FSG)

In a small, unnamed town in the American South, a church congregation arrives for a service and finds a figure asleep on a pew. The person is genderless and racially ambiguous and refuses to speak. One family takes in the strange visitor 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 origin. 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 who they really are—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.

Praise for Pew:

"Catherine Lacey, a fiction wunderkind who writes with dynamite, has recreated herself, and our ideas about what novels can do, yet again." --Vulture

"Told in Pew’s spare, elegiac voice, Lacey’s third novel is an ambitious story of compassion, cruelty, and belonging, as well as a powerful exploration of the dangers posed by white guilt and institutionalized religion." --Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire

" Lacey works at the provocative end of contemporary American fiction, and Pew is her sharpest novel yet: a tale of the quiet savagery of “good” intentions, and the tyranny – and ecstasy – of belonging . . . . There is a fallen-to-Earth quality about Lacey’s amnesiac, androgynous confidante: part space alien, part unwitting, or unwilling, messiah; a kind of ethereal cultural anthropologist." --Beejay Silcox, TLS

"Lacey’s fourth novel is splendid — beautifully written and pleasingly concise, with an eerie atmosphere somehow perfect for times in which, as one character remarks, 'everything is just so strange lately' . . . All this ambiguity might sound exasperating to readers as well. It’s not. . . I can’t over-emphasise how sweetly, swiftly and entertainingly this book proceeds, or how exquisitely the prose is crafted on every page." --Lionel Shriver, Financial Times

"[A] puzzle of a novel . . . Lacey has always been an economical writer, and she is as taut as she’s ever been here . . . These monologues make sections of the book read like Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy blended with the creeping unease of Ari Aster’s horror film Midsommar . . . it is within [Pew's] messier reaches, and its concerns with inequality and prejudice, that its boldest and most brilliant effects are found." --Chris Power, The Guardian (Book of the Day)

"It needs authorial guts to write a novel in which details are shrouded, meaning is concealed and little is certain. Step up Catherine Lacey, and welcome. . . . There’s a whiff of Shirley Jackson in the air . . . [Pew is] ultimately intriguing. It keeps you thinking, and you can’t ask for much more than that." --John Self, Spectator (London)

"[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

“A stranger comes to town, and takes us with them into their estrangement among the denizens of a conservative religious community. The people of this community are stifling, and generous, cruel, earnest, needy, overconfident, fragile and repressive, which is to say that they are brilliantly rendered by their wise maker, Catherine Lacey.” --Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers

“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.

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: 
Wednesday, August 12, 2020 - 6:30pm
Event address: 
1818 N Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
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