STORY HOUSE by Timothy Taylor (Knopf), 452 pages, $34.95 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Timothy Taylor knows how to catapult readers into the thick of heady cult worlds that play upon the senses. His descriptions of the five-star fusion dishes concocted by the protagonist of his first novel, Stanley Park, were drool-worthy; his follow-up, Story House, unfolds through the plumb lines and implausible angles of convention-shattering architecture and the uncanny trompe l'oeils of counterfeit commodity culture.
Taylor maps out an archetypal feud between brothers, the legitimate and illegitimate offspring of famous architect Packer Gordon. The doughier former, Graham, attempts to carry on his father's legacy through his own feverish stabs at groundbreaking design. (He has also inherited his dad's alcoholic tendencies.) Elliot fights to walk the straight and narrow after establishing himself as a kingpin in the Van City counterfeit import industry.
Still reeling from the impact of a teenage boxing match for brotherly supremacy cruelly orchestrated by their late puppetmaster patriarch, the two are thrown together 20 years later by a reality TV producer obsessed with Packer Gordon who spurs them to restore (on camera) the decaying building in which their fight occurred, which may or may not have been designed by their dad.
Taylor deftly navigates both the unlikely coincidences and the potential clichés inherent in a prodigal-son-versus-golden-boy faceoff, partly by playing with our expectations (black sheep Elliot has familial stability and confidence, while Graham struggles with sobriety and self-doubt), and partly through the authority with which he evokes Story House's esoteric disciplines.
But as fascinating as counterfeiting and architecture may be in theory, they lack the primal sexiness of Stanley Park's steamy cuisine, and middle stretches outlining Korean fraud factories and the play of light on Mylar lose momentum. Taylor pushes toward a satisfying climax and a somewhat muddled denouement steeped in ambiguity, but you have to work to keep up.
Taylor joins a panel on the pain of releasing a book tonight (Thursday, October 26) and reads Saturday (October 28)