So it’s possible to delight in Lundgren’s creation in various ways without settling on a theory for what it all means. I have one, though, if you’re interested. The Facades strikes me as a fond elegy for a certain uncongenial strain of high modernism, one that saw itself, to use the words of Bernhard, as “a clearer of rubble, a germane destroyer of old forms.” Bernhard — who is almost certainly named after the misanthropic Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard — was “reluctant to install bathrooms in his buildings,” and tucked them in stray corners as a reluctant afterthought. “The ideal building, for Bernhard,” one character announces, “is always an empty one.” Like Trude and other once-flourishing capitols of the industrial Midwest, this artistic school enjoyed a brief heyday, but now it has fallen into disuse and picturesque ruin. It has been abandoned in favor of banal uplift and bootstrapper propaganda, just as vibrant Molly has abandoned poor, drab Sven. It’s a future that never quite took. Funny thing is, in defeat it has acquired an allure — a nostalgic, endearing idiosyncrasy, perfectly captured by Lundgren — that it never possessed in its triumph.
Laura Miller, Salon
The Facades belongs to the same subgenre as Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, and Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn: detective novels influenced as much by Kafka as they are by Chandler. Generally speaking, in these novels, style and atmosphere trump plot and action, the setting is as crucial as the crime, and intertextuality is more important than investigative chops. Just as we have the collective term for the Southern Gothic, perhaps it is time to name this bastard offspring of Dashiell Hammett and Jorge Luis Borges. Hardboiled Existentialism? The Metaphysical Whodunnit? The Urban-Decay Procedural? Take your pick.
Jon Michaud, TheNewYorker.com
In Lundgren’s world, meaning is hard to pin down and the efficacy of language is suspect. There are overt riddles, like the literally labyrinthine shopping mall that may or may not have been designed by an insane architect to represent the fundamentally unfulfilling nature of capitalism; as well as more subtle ones, like the way his characters have only the merest ability to express themselves (“I am a body through which the language passes,” claims a slimy opera critic). This is all good, heady fun, and it crackles with enough wit to avoid pretension. And then there is the plot itself, philosophically tinged noir, in which red herrings abound and each step forward might really be a step back. The Facades is an intelligent and beguiling book that shouldn’t be missed.
Nicholas Mancusi, Time Out New York
I don’t know whether “existential noir” is the best name for a subgenre I have become a fan of, but it seems descriptive of The Facades, in which a middle-aged dad with a mediocre job searches for his missing wife, the prima donna at the inexplicably important opera house in their fictional Midwestern Anycity. The narrator’s amateur detective activities discover plenty about his wife, but even more about the strange place they inhabit, a planned city where a troubled German architect seems to have locked millions in a decades-long crisis of confidence based around a literally maze-like shopping mall and a rest home that might do more to drive you mad than cure what ails you. If there’s a cross between Wittgenstein and a beach read, this is it–and yes, it’s as fun and strange as that sounds.
Nicole Perrin, BookRiot (The Best Books We Read in September)
Much of the humor and bite of the book comes from the philosophical asides and narrative side paths, but at times they make the story hard to follow. I was bogged down about a third of the way through when I came across a flashback to a brief romantic scene between Sven and his wife. They made love under an oak tree in the rain, with a Schubert quartet playing in the background. The scene had a shivering erotic intensity that brought humanity back to the characters, particularly after Sven remarked wittily, “The happiest moment of my life took place in a puddle.”
Revivified, I kept going, and I’m glad I did. The denouement — Sven finds out what happened to his wife, sort of — came as a surprise, changing everything, and after thinking about it for a while, I realized the surprise informed the book as a whole and made it richer. All in all, The Facades is a fine first novel by a very promising young writer.
Harper Barnes, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Jason Diamond, Flavorwire (Ten Must-Read Books for September)
In this fascinating, complex debut novel, a famous mezzo-soprano vanishes from rehearsal, leaving behind her husband, Sven, to care for their disaffected son and search for her in the labyrinthine streets of fictional Midwestern city Trude. Though most of the plot involves Sven’s existential and often humorous detective work, Trude itself is the biggest of Lundgren’s many successes here. The once-great city is well rendered not only in its physical appearance (“The city assembled itself, scattered lights in the old skyscrapers meandering the night sky like notes on a staff”), but also in its oddities, such as the militarized library where the librarians are in a stalemate with police, a pretentious nursing home that is more difficult to gain admission to than the local college, and bathroom graffiti that reads, “There is no use in killing oneself; one always does it too late.” Ratcheted onto the spine of an un-put-downable mystery and brimming with entertaining dialogue and unique, well-wrought characters, this is one of those rare books that corners every mood, every emotion, and throws them into the spotlight. Lundgren’s debut is a fierce, funny examination of loss, set against one of the most creative worlds in recent memory, and it’s not to be missed.
Publisher’s Weekly (Starred Review)
Like the best storytellers, Lundgren understands that his job is to ask questions, not answer them. And the questions pile up. Was Molly kidnapped or did she leave a paranoid, unobservant husband? Is The Facades a mystery, a family drama, or a post-modern tale? This inventive novel defies genres: it will delight readers who enjoy clever wordplay, oddball characters, and a glimpse into a not-so-distant future.
Karen Ackland, ForeWord Reviews
Lundgren incorporates thoughtful details, unexpected word choices, and striking turns of phrase that linger with the reader long after the book has ended. He has a keen sense of the mental abstraction that accompanies loss and translates it to the page with devastating accuracy. Readers with discerning taste in fiction, especially fans of literary fiction laced with mystery, will love Lundgren’s debut.
Amber Peckham, Booklist