I don’t know how Percival Everett made it on to recommended reading list, but I downloaded Assumptions and launched into what seemed like a well-done, standard, diverting mystery. I continued to think that’s what I had in my hands right through the first novella-length account of Deputy Ogden Walker’s investigation of various criminal activities in and around Plata, New Mexico. I figured I’d stumbled on to a skilled Tony Hillerman, who actually knew how to create characters and plots instead of Hollywood scenarios out of the high desert. I continued to think so right through the second Ogden Walker adventure, my appreciation building at how Everett could make the idea of a black lawman in that white/Hispanic/Indian country seem odd and organic at the same time. Then I finished the third tale–and the book–and I started backtracking.
The ending was such a shock, I couldn’t understand how we got there. Until I began to see how Everett had so carefully planted the seeds, the clues, among the seeming conventions (you might call them cliches) of his detective novel. Ogden Walker is a loner. Fine–that’s one of the standard characteristics of the mystery’s protagonist, especially when you add the fact that he’s a rare black among the populace. He’s also a fly fisherman. Many of these guys have interesting hobbies. He has an odd guy for a boss–most literary detectives have eccentric sheriffs as a foil.
But if you do read this book, keep your eyes open for things that don’t add up. For missing spaces in various puzzles. I predict that you’ll be as confused as I was and am about what actually happened along the way. It’s one thing to have an unreliable first-person narrator, but an unreliable omniscient narrator (Not Dickens–omniscient, the close-third kind of omniscient)–now that’s a challenge. Mostly, I’d regard this as a gimmick that is meant to trick and manipulate the reader. In this case, I just think Everett is damn smart, and that Assumption is art reflecting reality at its most subtle and deceiving and surprising. I did try to justify an interpretation that included the assumption in the sense of Virgin Mary ascending into heaven, but didn’t find it. Maybe you will. As for myself, I’m off into another Percival Everett. He could be my author discovery of 2012.