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The Broken House

This novel, first of The Enchantments, came out from Spuyten Duyvil Press in 2015. To read a chapter from it, see the sidebar on the "My Works" page. See the sidebar on this page for a a second, "Night Reconnaissance," which I read at ReaderCon in 2005 and published in ParaSpheres, the new-wave-fabulist anthology brought out in 2006 by Omnidawn Publishing.

'Nna, one of the novel's protagonists, is an army whore who cooks for the other, the Megaduke Shandimus, Domestic of the Company of Walls, who has just suffered a catastrophic defeat and now must relearn the art of war. He does so when 'Nna takes him out into the field on a

Excerpts from a review of The Broken House
by Jane Rosenberg LaForge
(in American Book Review, May-June 2015)

Midway through the seeming forever-war that grips the fictional world in Tom La Farge’s The Broken House, the author has a character wonder over the meaning of metaphor. “As a good metaphor does more than amplify an object, [it] creates an object in the phantasy,” the historiographer and poet known as Drytung thinks. He may very well have been considering La Farge’s project: an experiment not only in fantasy, but other popular genres. The point of this investigation might be difficult to discern, but only if metaphor retains its traditional definition. La Farge instead gives metaphor a thorough interrogation so that the folly that is making metaphor is exposed when his characters try to make their dreams concrete.

In… quest novels … the dramatis personæ must fight for the good of their own kind of paradise against new, improved forms of malevolence that have so far escaped all attempts to defang [them]. The elves, animals, the chosen, or preternaturally gifted children, other exotics, or crossbreeds of all of the above are meant to personify the true nature of ahistorical humanity as they complete some feat of derring-do. This reductive description is meant to invoke the industry that now produces the fantasy novels, and formulas that alternately sustain and threaten it. The Broken House mercifully has none of the attributes, and yet uses their atmosphere and tropes to tell a story of both human and otherworldly hubris.

…La Farge produces glorious tableaux of the meals Drytung and others consume. Here the images are not only original, but they also speak to the theater that consumes life at court, or in this case, a doomed and grotesque aristocracy. The best way to describe these dishes might be to think of what must have been served in the lost French plantation scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s legendary movie of the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now (1979). The last such dinner in The Broken House is “a most dramatic dish…” in the words of one of its eaters. The genius of it, though, is not its immediate rendering or even its singular ingredients, but in how it unites all of the genres and their symbols, as well as the plot, into a cogent explanation, and prediction of the future. The dish is rooted in a fable that has been told for millennia, and, in La Farge’s hands, it is suffused with shock and awe.

…[C]ritics have called Pynchon’s [The Crying of] Lot 49 a parody of postmodernism rather than a seminal text. But The Broken House is more than a parody of fantasy (or steampunk or the postmodern), unless we are exclusively talking about literature. For the events in this novel, like the best parodies, are wholly realistic, despite their supernatural trappings. And in these we may not see the loss of innocence, the genesis of a new civilization, or even a kind of tragedy of greatness misspent. LaFarge instead constructs a new kind of fable with a lesson that at first seems as enigmatic as a mirage in the desert. Consider the natural phenomena that go into a mirage, though, and the moral of the story might be that much clearer.