An unnamed woman checks into a guesthouse in a mysterious district known only as the Subdivision. The guesthouse’s owners, Clara and the Judge, are welcoming and helpful, if oddly preoccupied by the perpetually baffling jigsaw puzzle in the living room. With little more than a hand-drawn map and vague memories of her troubled past, the narrator ventures out in search of a job, an apartment, and a fresh start in life.
... a dazzling enigma packed with mysteries in miniature ... Is the Subdivision a place, an emotion or an event lodged in the back of the mind? Is it limbo, or a wall persuaded to shield us from the truth? Lennon is a masterly aggregator of dread. His refusal to neatly answer these questions allows for a bold, unsettling narrative to take shape. The main character’s memories have been fragmented, jumbled and reassembled in a district specifically zoned for her story. Every novel is a subdivision in this way: a plot of land, a land for the plot.
... a novel with a key. But rather than shocking us with a twist ending, Lennon gradually clues us (and the narrator herself) into what’s really going on beneath the surface. This process is heavy-handed at times ... The narrator’s metaphorical sublimations of traumatic events and relationships tend toward the obvious, and one of the recurring images, of a jigsaw puzzle filling itself in on a table in the guesthouse, reads like a cliché. But Subdivision is never less than riveting, thanks to Lennon’s lean and evocative prose, our thrilling inability to predict what will happen next, and the certainty that it will be something surprising and disturbing.
The experience of reading J. Robert Lennon’s latest title is as akin to playing certain mystery video games as it is to reading a typical book ... The book’s mysteries emerge slowly, perhaps even preciously ... Lennon isn’t failing to realize a detailed world; he’s realizing a non-detailed world. The narration is precise but toneless, displaying the same detachment whether describing neighborhood aesthetics ... The advantage for the writer is the ability to tweak reality and introduce elements as they see fit, no verisimilitude check needed. The pleasure for the reader, when the former is done well, lies in the tension between the world as it is and the subdivision in which the reader or viewer is contained — in how the real world, which the artificial one conceals, sneaks through the membrane. After a quaint start, Lennon proves himself masterful at this ... While it’s not always clear which oddities have outside meaning and which are simply dreamlike logic, the mystery unfolds at a steady drip, and gives the reader some intriguing detours on the ride to the big reveal ... The more the novel goes on, the more its world resembles those in Murakami novels (though we’re spared any sexualized descriptions of women’s earlobes), with their interplay between the strange and the meaningful, the conscious and the subconscious. Lennon makes familiar things just strange enough to be unsettling ... Since we don’t have the picture on the box, seeing the picture revealed as Lennon fits more and more pieces into place makes for an effective mystery format ... But the most interesting thing about the form Lennon has chosen is the way it turns a book about a faceless, nameless character with no memories and few opinions into a portrait. The reader isn’t the only one discovering who this woman is. The narrator is on a journey to see herself, and the life The Subdivision conceals, properly for the first time. The narrator arrives as an empty outline. The journey to fill in that outline is a wild one, but one given meaning by the person we come to see inside it.