Grand, David 1968-
GRAND, David 1968-
PERSONAL: Born 1968.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Random House, 299 Park Ave., New York, NY 10171-0002.
AWARDS, HONORS: Creative writing fellowship for fiction from New York University.
Louse (novel), Arcade (New York, NY), 1998.
The Disappearing Body, Nan A. Talese (New York, NY), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: David Grand's debut novel, Louse, is a "brave-new-world" story with a central character based on fact. Library Journal reviewer Margaret A. Smith wrote that the novel "has an aura of fantasy," while Booklist contributor Michele Leber added that Grand "takes readers on a surrealistic ride, and they're unlikely to get off before it's over."
In Louse, protagonist Herman Q. Louse is the valet of billionaire Herbert Horatio Blackwell, a man he has been told to call "Poppy." Poppy, like the late Howard Hughes, is a former aviator, film producer, investor, playboy, and the owner of a huge gambling operation in a state that might be Nevada. Poppy, also like Hughes, is deathly afraid of germs. Hughes and his caretakers lived on the floor of a hotel, sealed off from the outside world. Poppy has built a chrome and glass fortress called "G," where his drugged servants—gamblers who have become indebted to Poppy—have been relieved of their long-term memory and now comply with contracts dictating their duties and behavior. As gamblers lose money in the casino on the ground floor, they are inducted into the growing work force of thousands who serve Poppy as accountants, clerks, and kitchen workers, existing in a brainwashed stupor with no will to escape under the watchful eyes of surveillance cameras. They can never work off their debt as penalties are added for every disciplinary infraction.
The story is related through Louse and information revealed in public relations copy, staff memos, and other official papers. Louse, dressed in the required gray flannel suit, administers drugs to the dying Poppy, kills any bugs that find their way into Poppy's sanctuary, and has sex with women chosen for him. Meanwhile, the staff are kept motivated by the possibility of being among those who will be selected to inhabit a new building called Paradise that is under construction. The one rebel is Mortimer Blank, an executive who is being sought by Poppy's guards for diverting money. Louse begins to regain some of his senses, including an attraction to one of the women he works with. A man who says he is Poppy's son emerges and begins to plan an escape from G.
A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that Grand "methodically and convincingly constructs Louse's antiseptic, delusionary environment with . . . dark humor and vertiginous imagination." David Sacks wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Louse "mirrors the plight of real-life workers in an era of job insecurity, video surveillance, and shameless corporate euphemisms. Yet Grand has even larger aspirations: the novel's hallucinatory world suggests a religious allegory (apparently sincere) about God's will or presence in the universe. Although not every part of this ambitious agenda succeeds, Louse is often provocative and hilarious, occasionally stunning."
Comparing Louse to George Orwell's 1984 and Donald Antrim's Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, Sacks concluded that "The master, of course, is Franz Kafka. Certainly the little people in Grand's fiction are caught in a Kafkaesque system of guilt and obligation, a kind of corporate purgatory." A Kirkus Reviews critic was less sure, questioning whether the novel is "a scathing satire of organizational mores, a chilling tour of a murky authoritarian world where reality is plastic, or simply a dizzying litany of comings and goings that challenges the readers to figure out what (if anything) is really going on." While Sacks ultimately considered the novel's symbolism and Louse's passivity to be flaws in the storyline, he concluded that "this Louse sticks to you, for its wit and imaginative vision."
In The Disappearing Body, Grand writes a dark thriller set in an unnamed American city in the 1930s. Victor Ribe is released from jail after years of imprisonment for a crime he didn't commit, but doesn't know who is responsible for his sudden freedom. Multiple storylines involve a friend of Ribe's who finds a dead body, only to have it disappear, drug trafficking, arms deals, and crooked politicians. Booklist's Bill Ott wrote that Grand "manages admirably" to write "a twisted version of the noir mood." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the book "a kind of postmodern thriller . . . [with] a satirical edge."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 1998, Michele Leber, review of Louse, p. 65; February 15, 2002, Bill Ott, review of The Disappearing Body, p. 995.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1998, review of Louse.
Library Journal, September 1, 1998, Margaret A. Smith, review of Louse, p. 213.
New York Times Book Review, January 24, 1999, David Sacks, review of Louse, p. 14.
Publishers Weekly, August 31, 1998, p. 44, review of Louse; February 4, 2002, review of The Disappearing Body, p. 49.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (November 7, 2002), Amy Reiter, review of The Disappearing Body.*