Reviewed by Jenna Fuller
Percival Everett’s Dr. No, published in November of 2022 by Graywolf Press, is a book about nothing. The novel follows Wala Kitu, the protagonist of the story who is very passionate about his extensive studies of nothing. Both of Wala Kitu’s names even translate to “nothing,” aligning with the idea that every area of Kitu’s existence is dedicated to nothingness. Dr. No focuses on Kitu’s journey simultaneously alongside and against John Sill, a man who seems to have every material item anyone could dream of owning, to discover a treasure containing, well, nothing. However, the mission becomes complicated when hidden motives and identities are both assumed and revealed. Consistent with his previous works, Everett’s most recent novel pushes the bounds of traditional fiction in both subject matter and character, allowing this novel to serve as a nearly perfect example of absurdism. Dr. No eagerly invites readers to embark on the journey alongside Kitu and adjust their definition of nothingness and substance as they digest Kitu’s many rants about nothingness. Readers are invited to answer three key questions alongside KItu: what extents are you willing to go to to defend what you are passionate about? what components of human life are the most important and hold the most/ lack meaning? what areas of your life would you sacrifice for someone else? All of these questions work toward defining human existence on a larger scale.
Everett’s main vehicle for his talents are his characters, each of which are cleverly developed and are the actors of Percival Everett’s dry humor. Wala Kitu who, as stated earlier, is obsessed with nothing and even claims to be a professor of it. He seems to find his way into several bizarre and larger-than-life situations that elevate his strangeness and add to his curious characterization. From hilarious interactions with his students to mysteriously acquiring a large sum of money to deciding to buy a car without a license, Kitu’s life is filled with unexpected happenings that seem to fit his character perfectly. Although Kitu is a relatively unassuming and overly normal type of person, he quickly finds himself in a chaotic spiral of adventure. Somehow these surprising events just make sense as a part of Kitu’s narrative, which readers get to see told entirely from the protagonist’s first person point of view.
The narrator of Dr. No assumes a punchy tone as the witty and blunt Kitu navigates the events of his often comical life. Kitu’s trust sidekick and pet dog Trigo contributes to the intrigue of the novel by assuming his own voice and becoming the physical form of the battles between logic and possibility that occur in Kitu’s mind. Despite the undeniable presence of comedy in the novel, Everett includes emotionally heavy moments that evoke sorrow as readers explore the backstories of major characters like John Sill through Kitu’s eyes. Various ranges of emotions are also experienced in the shocking circumstances Kitu often finds himself in. Interestingly, as Kitu navigates moments that evoke intense emotion in readers, he appears to remain numb or emotionally neutral in each situation. Everett’s ability to blend various levels of human emotion make this novel a standout as it captivates the readers and begs for their emotional investment from the first sentence.
John Sill and Eigen Vector act as the conductors of the grand journey to find nothing that Kitu has been pulled into. John Sill, a man whose family has a criminal past, seems to be a professional at covert operations and loves the feeling of power he gains from leading secret missions. Sill is clearly incredibly wealthy, making his determination to discover nothing particularly intriguing. This makes Everett’s discussion of nothing richer as it is sought after by someone who has everything. Eigen Vector, a scholar who initially seems fairly similar to Kitu, has involved herself in the mission for the thrill of it. She enjoys the distraction from her mundane life the search for nothing provides her with and begins to take on an alter ego as the journey commences; the search for nothing has given her a sense of purpose outside of her monotonous role as a professor and a scholar. Through the outrageous experiences of each of these characters, this novel effectively approaches themes of covertness, identity, conformity, and performance in a way that feels new and modern. He poses the question “What is art?” as he explores what is worth writing and reading about by creating a story of immense substance in his exploration of nothing. In doing so, Everett not only encourages readers to be contemplative and apply the universal elements of the novel to their own lives, but he also conveys a purely entertaining story. Everett has mastered a balance of depth and entertainment that makes Dr. No one of a kind.