Carlos Fonseca’s Natural History (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020) is a singularly difficult book to describe. It’s always hard to sum up an entire novel in a few words, but this one poses special difficulty. It has multiple, layered, sprawling stories, and the book is more about the journey than the destination. It’s a philosophical novel of ideas, a story about art and theory in which language is of primary importance. It’s about mimeticism and identity, about belief and nihilism, family and generational conflict. It calls to mind Georges Perec’s idea of the novel as a puzzle that the reader must reconstruct, though Carlos ensures that the solution is always just out of reach.

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