A newcomer to New York searches for a boy he believes has been kidnapped and imprisoned in a box. When he tries to enlist help he's treated with indifference or disbelief.
Nelson plays a cagey, Kafkaesque cat-and-mouse game with reality and illusion in his quirky debut novel, which chronicles a man's search for a murdered boy. Smith, an industrial designer, moves to New York City to look for a job and sublets his sister's Queens apartment. Soon after he settles in, he encounters the building's bizarre janitor, Kogat Dezmun, who mutters something barely intelligible about a young boy who has been abducted and imprisoned in a wooden box. Smith imagines Dezmun is raving until he sees a news report on a similar crime, but when he tries to confront the janitor again the man's son intervenes. Smith takes his strange story to the local police, who are familiar with the weird janitor and offer some tepid reassurances that he didn't commit the crime. But Smith can't shake the feeling that Dezmun knows something, and he continues to conduct his own odd search for the boy's tormentor. The search goes on even when the police announce that the crime has been solved, and the novel ends with a fittingly bizarre job interview in which Smith discovers that he has become part of a murky conspiracy. Nelson manages to make the book work on two levels, sustaining his thin plot while developing enough mysterious atmosphere to lend events a more surreal significance. Parts of the narrative are a bit clumsy and opaque, but Nelson creates an edgy, compelling world that will remind readers of Paul Auster and cartoonist Ben Katchor.