Reviewed by Avery Brooks
Eugene Lim’s new novel Search History has been and could be accurately described as many things- a meditation on the relationship between human beings and the technology we create; a search for Asian-American identity in the twenty-first century; and a series of narrative digressions meant to simulate the experience of going down an internet rabbit hole, to name a few. All of these descriptions are accurate, and yet none of them alone serve to fully capture the special nature of Lim’s novel.
The plot revolves around a piano player named Frank Exit; specifically his death after he runs into a burning building. His friend Muriel is grief-stricken, and comes to suspect that a dog is actually the reincarnation of Frank. This alone might be the set up for a decent absurdist tragicomedy, but in Lim’s world it is only the beginning. The dog turns out to be much more than it seems, and its owner takes it and flees around (possibly beyond) the known world, leaving Muriel and her friend Donna to follow their trail.
Even a description like that can’t truly do justice to Lim’s freewheeling sense of adventure. To read this novel is to surrender oneself to a plan which, although confusing, never feels anything less than absolutely exhilarating. Part of the fun is to think you know where you’re going, and then suddenly to be smacked with a reference, or interrogation, or dream sequence that you didn’t expect, and suddenly have to climb out of an ever-mounting pile of surrealism that you didn’t even know was about to fall on your head.
Search History sits in the tradition of novels employing askew storytelling to dance around some point without ever holding the reader’s hand. Think of the current post-modernist American literary tradition as established by David Foster Wallace, and infect it with a strain of Haruki Murakami’s inexplicable surrealism, and you have a picture of what Lin is aiming at here. Characters take on new identities, the names of real people pop up in fictional places, and the same names recur again and again, each time taking on a new meaning. For readers unaccustomed to this style, or searching for tighter, more plot-driven novels, Search History might be an aggravating experience, but for those who know what they’re looking for, and what they’re getting into here, it will be incredibly rewarding.