A shape-shifting book of prose and images that draws on an unexpected pair of inspirations—the poetry of Fernando Pessoa and the history of air disasters—to investigate con men, identity politics, failures of leadership, the privilege of ineptitude, the slave trade, and the nature of consciousness.
Hannaham is not only creative or stunningly gifted or intellectual or supremely original, but all those distinctions at once. This genre-defying book of compressed prose, poetry and image is the product of a mind—and heart—pushing the artistic tachometer to the red line ... Pilot Impostor has as many fine gears as a Swiss watch. Its several organizational principles together imply the creation of self only unfolds over time—we become most 'ourselves' as we accumulate the sediment of what by chance happens to us. Some of these are accidents. Some are delivered in our DNA. But we make something of them nonetheless—a narrative informed by cognitive bias, a fictional projection, a work of art. Or a book that accomplishes them all ... Hannaham’s signature sly humor often carries a surprise hit of acid. His first novel is a comic but compassionate exploration of race, sexuality and religious hypocrisy that tempers its outrage with absurdism.
... has the same bracing humor and strong voice that we’ve come to expect from [Hannaham] ... the format of poems and microfictions allows Hannaham to achieve the seemingly disparate ends of both making bigger jokes and also engaging more directly with philosophical questions, which are hard to address in longer-form narrative without becoming tedious ... This prosaic quality, which recurs throughout the collection, may make us wonder why 'Dear White Woman' is a poem instead of something longer, like an essay. That it’s one of the strongest pieces in the collection may make us wonder if Hannaham, by writing a poetry collection, is constraining himself for no good reason. But these prosaic moments—some of which are the funniest in the book, not just the most thoughtful—stand out in contrast to the rest of the collection, which moves quickly, its ideas zipping around with almost electric energy. And such moments stand out, too, from extra-textual elements like the Pessoa citations and the many photographs ... If, like me, you loved Delicious Foods and have been waiting for an encore, the mishmash of poems and photographs you find in your hands here might make you nervous, but by its end you’ll be glad that James Hannaham made the choices he did.
In this playful and varied collection, the novelist James Hannaham makes use of an unlikely pairing — the works of the Portuguese modernist Fernando Pessoa and the history of plane crashes — to pose knotty questions about contemporary life ... It doesn’t all hang together, though its best pieces possess the improbable coherence of dreams ... Hannaham’s narrator — or is it narrators? — is elusive, mysterious, funny, various and a little ethereal ... He is also indignant. The book quietly seethes. America’s racial divides, past and present, animate much of the work ... There are also pages of seeming nonsense ... These juxtapositions of trenchant commentary, menace and absurdism are provocative. Something like the irreverent, ravaging spirit of Dadaism occasionally draws near ... Hannaham, who is also a visual artist, uses images to anchor or countervail the texts. There are photographs of plane crashes, paintings, flight path readouts, patterned textures and squares he found in Lisbon, memes, movie stills, abstract geometric pieces and Google Maps selections. Taken together, they create a sense of mediation and instability. Who and where we are — historically, culturally, existentially — is always a negotiable prospect for the author... This elasticity sometimes leads the book into thin or unconvincing territory. What exhilarates on one page disorients on the next. The different registers can feel haphazard. Trump impersonations rub elbows with hallucinated geographies, gnomic stanzas, error messages and utopian gestures. Who are we in the midst of such debris? Hannaham seems to ask. What is real? In lieu of answers, the book offers a kind of anti-catharsis: 'We must live life forward and attempt to make sense of it backward. So we fail in both directions.'