Publishing for the first time with Grove Atlantic, Pulitzer Prize finalist and celebrated author of seven novels Jonathan Dee delivers a daring, tense, ticking time bomb of a novel about an anonymous white man on the run from his own identity.
“This propulsive and furious book is as fun to read as it is relentless and unsparing. Deranged and faltering America, Jonathan Dee has your number.” —Joshua Ferris, author of The Dinner Party
In Jonathan Dee’s elegant and explosive new novel, Sugar Street, an unnamed male narrator has hit the road. Rid of any possible identifiers, his possessions amount to $168,548 in cash stashed in an envelope under his car seat. Vigilantly avoiding security cameras, he drives until he hits a city where his past is unlikely to track him down, and finds a room to rent from a less-than-stable landlady whose need for money outweighs her desire to ask questions. He seems to have escaped his former self. But can he?
In a story that moves with swift dark humor and insight, Dee takes us through his narrator’s attempt to disavow his former life of privilege and enter a blameless new existence. Having opted out of his material possessions and human connections, the pillars of his new self - simplicity, kindness, above all invisibility - grow shakier as he butts up against the daily lives of his neighbors in their politically divided working-class city. With the suspense of a crime thriller and the grace of our best literary fiction, Dee unspools the details of our unlikely hero’s former life and his developing new one in a drumbeat roll up to a shocking final act.
Dee has been compared by the Wall Street Journal to authors such as Jonathan Franzen and Jennifer Egan for his expansive, contemporary, social novels; Sugar Street is a leaner, more personal, but still uncannily timely look at the volatile America of today. A risky, engrossing and surprisingly visceral story about a white man trying to escape his own troubling footprint and start his life over.
Dee returns 11 years after his Pulitzer finalist The Privileges with an energetic character study of a white man determined to escape from his life. It starts with a burst of electric first-person action, as the unnamed narrator drives on back roads across the country, keeping off the interstate to avoid cameras, with $168,048 in cash. The narrator dishes an acerbic perspective on the passing roadside ("unzoned hellscapes in which every fast-food restaurant on earth operates a franchise side by side") and his aversion to surveillance belies a vague paranoia. He rents an unlisted room in a small unspecified city from Autumn, a healthcare worker and heavy drinker. There, his self-imposed isolation proves easier in theory than practice. After a child named Abiha accidentally drops her notebook outside Autumn's house on her way to school, the narrator returns it. The satisfaction of helping Abiha, whom he describes as a "person of color," whets his appetite for more acts of anonymous charity with his surplus of cash. Before long, he arouses suspicions from Autumn, the neighborhood children, and the police, setting him on a collision course with the life he left behind. Though a bit slim, Dee's work grapples intriguingly with the narrator's liberal myopia. It stands as a showcase of Dee's masterly prose.