An exploration of modern masculinity, told from the perspective of Ezekiel Hooper Stark, a 30-something ethnographer and assistant professor who sifts through photographs to construct the narratives of family and strangers.
The depths Tillman plumbs seem almost paradoxical to a novel so intensely focused on surfaces and photography. It’s as if Tillman is acknowledging that life is life, but the active life occurs in the interface with the mind ... Men and Apparitions is a loose and beautiful baggy monster of a novel that opens in on itself like a fun house hall of mirrors. What a tremendous experience it is to walk through, never quite sure who’s who or what you’re looking at.
Incantatory, maddening, brilliant, zestful, compassionate, and timely, Tillman’s portrait of a floundering academic trying to make sense of a digitized world of churning, contradictory messages reveals the perpetual interplay between past and present, the personal and the cultural, image and life.
The photos we capture—and launch from our devices onto Instagram, YouTube, Tinder—extrude our desires into the ether, and Tillman has attuned her antennae to their strange frequencies ... In a novel that overflows with obsessive, encyclopedic energy, her characters luxuriate in self-conscious play, double meaning, and provocative inquiry. The result is a work that enlarges our understanding of what the novel can be—and the sense of self we take for granted ... Tillman writes pictures the way Jeanette Winterson writes the body: with great and counterintuitive attention to detail, theorizing and revising as she goes ... It’s staggering to watch Tillman so precisely dissect Zeke’s Gen-X masculinity and its contradictions ... The pseudo-study [end section] feels like anticlimax...I’m not sure the novel needs it, and it appears as its own postmodernist formal convention.