Novelist Paul La Farge has died at the age of 52. He passed from cancer on January 18th in Poughkeepsie, New York as confirmed by his wife.

La Farge was a New York native whose essays and fiction appeared in publications like The Village Voice, The New Yorker, and McSweeney’s. His debut novel, The Artist of the Missing, published in 1999 and is set in a modern-day, unnamed city where people frequently go missing. The book’s main character paints portraits of the missing, including the parents and brother who disappeared in his childhood, and then of his romantic interest, a police photographer, when she too ends up among the lost.

La Farge received several fellowships and literary honors in his lifetime, including the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002 and a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in 2012. He was awarded six MacDowell Fellowships and wrote The Night Ocean (2017) during his time at MacDowell in 2014. In this intense and psychological work of cosmic horror, a psychiatrist discovers her husband’s obsession with H.P. Lovecraft may have lead to his death by suicide. In an essay for The New Yorker in 2017, La Farge wrote about about the curious friendship between Lovecraft and a young man named Robert Barlow that inspired what is widely regarded as his greatest work. His other notable works include Haussman, or the Distinction and Luminous Airplanes.

As numerous reflections of La Farge’s work point out, his work is not easily categorized, experimenting with style, timelines, and narrative structure. In an email to the New York Times, fellow writer, friend, and fan Gary Shteyngart described reading La Farge’s work as being “gently lowered into a bath of perfect temperature, as ideas, revelations, universes float by,” adding that “His books are inhabited by some of the most real and conflicted and lost people to have walked through 21st-century prose.”

Shteyngart and other authors, friends, and colleagues have taken to social media to lament La Farge’s passing and remark on the lasting impact of his work.

Find more news and stories of interest from the book world in Breaking in Books.


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