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There is no easy way to describe Steve Erickson’s latest novel, SHADOWBAHN. But a look at the hardcover jacket (credited to Gretchen Achilles) gives some clues to the sophisticated simplicity of the book. Two lines, one black and one silver-white, recede from view like lines on a road or towers reaching to the sky. The lines are paralleled, twinned, but not exactly the same. They symbolize the themes here: towers, highways, twins, siblings of different races. And, in turn, those themes stand for the vast complicated America that Erickson explores --- its ideals, culture, history and people.

"There is mystery and magic here, presented in short and dizzying chapters moving between interconnected storylines.... It is an unusual, strange and smart book that demands full attention and careful thought."

A synopsis of sorts is in order. While driving his usual route through South Dakota, a trucker named Aaron is the first to witness the incredible reappearance of the Twin Towers, felled on 9/11. The buildings appear intact and empty, and soon multitudes arrive to gawk. Many of them claim to hear music, songs they’ve never heard before, on the radio and in their heads but perhaps coming from the Towers. One Tower at least turns out not to be empty. It is occupied by Jesse, the stillborn but now somehow full-grown twin of Elvis Presley. Unsure how he ended up on the 93rd floor, or, even alive, tormented by memories of his mother and his brother’s voice, all Jesse knows is that he is not him. He sets out from the building, even as a sheriff enters and disappears, on a seemingly decades-long search for meaning, guided by music on the waves of contemporary history.

As the Towers begin to vanish and reappear, and as Jesse encounters the ghost of his unborn twin’s legacy, another pair of siblings are leaving California for their mother’s home in Michigan. Parker is 23 years old and white, and his sister, Zema, is 15 and black, adopted from Ethiopia. The soundtrack for their road trip, including its detour to South Dakota to see the Towers, is a playlist put together by their deceased father whose knowledge of music was both broad and deep, full of cultural connections, racial challenges, and statements about American art and expression. It may be that Zema, in her adolescent and existential confusion about her identity, is the channel, if not the embodiment, of the music her father compiled. Soon Parker and Zema are linked, inexplicably, to the Towers. Over time it becomes less clear that the Towers and the music are real. As Parker and Zema drive closer to the buildings, phantoms or not, Jesse descends into madness.

There is mystery and magic here, presented in short and dizzying chapters moving between interconnected storylines. From the loneliest of highways to Warhol’s Factory, SHADOWBAHN is a wild ride chock full of music and metaphors, twins and twinning, and possibilities met and unmet. Erickson seems to make bold statements about social and cultural change in America, though the tale itself becomes increasingly strange and frantic. American identity is at the fore of the novel, but Erickson is never precise or explicit in his ideas, instead letting the book unfold and flow like an untraveled highway that holds promises, adventures and questions, but no answers.

As the title suggests, this is a novel full of shadows --- shadow roads, shadow towers, shadow siblings, even shadow lives. It is an unusual, strange and smart book that demands full attention and careful thought.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on March 2, 2017

by Steve Erickson

  • Publication Date: February 13, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Blue Rider Press
  • ISBN-10: 0735212023
  • ISBN-13: 9780735212022