There’s a moment in the second half of Keziah Weir’s debut novel “The Mythmakers” where narrator Sal Cannon finds herself at the Center for Awareness, a therapeutic retreat located upstate New York whose founder, Wesley, has a connection to a cult author whose life Sal is researching. Their conversation at an end, Wesley pauses to say one more thing; Sal describes herself “waiting for a revelation.” But in this case, Wesley’s advice is less spiritual than practical. “Don’t forget to check for ticks,” he tells her. “Linings of your socks, armpits, hairline. They’re bad this year.”

It’s not the advice Sal was expecting, but it is good advice nonetheless. And, on a larger scale, it echoes the larger structure of Maine resident Weir’s novel, where plenty of characters go in search of one thing and find themselves discovering something equally useful, albeit completely different from their expectations.

“The Mythmakers” opens on a spring day in Brooklyn, where Sal – a contributing editor at a magazine – is alone in the apartment she shares with boyfriend Hugh, who works in technology. (The revelation of what it is that Hugh actually does comes much later in the novel, and is one of the novel’s funniest moments.) She opens an issue of The Paris Review and sees a story by a writer named Martin Scott Keller – the author of a handful of well-received but relatively obscure books. While reading it, she finds something unnerving about it: it seems to be based on an encounter she’d had with Keller years earlier at a literary event.

“It wasn’t difficult to seem precocious around much older men,” Sal recalls of that conversation – one fraught with ambiguity about what each of them is seeking to gain from it. Is this merely a friendly conversation at a social event? Was Sal attempting to impress a potential mentor? Was Martin attempting a seduction of a much younger woman? Sal’s present-day reading of the story brings the event back to the foreground of her memory, while also informing her of two things: the story is from an as-yet-unpublished novel, and Martin Scott Keller died a few months earlier.

And then personal and professional circumstances unmoor Sal from her life in Brooklyn. She travels upstate to meet with Martin’s widow Moira, in the hopes of writing an article on Martin’s life and potentially getting a glimpse of the manuscript from which the story was excerpted. What Sal initially planned as a two-day sojourn gradually extends for much longer, and one of the subtle charms of this novel is the way Weir shows Sal settling into a rhythm in the town: making friends, figuring out transportation and carving out a place for herself.

It’s also here that the scope of the book expands, with first-person chapters told from Sal’s perspective interspersed with stories of Martin’s and Moira’s lives – and, gradually, the lives of a few others in their orbit, including their now-grown daughter. The way the narrative expands is compelling for a few reasons: It answers some of the questions that Sal has had even as it deepens certain other lingering questions. And, at times, it demonstrates that Sal – while a compelling narrator – doesn’t know everything about everything, something her friend Sawyer makes very clear with an offhand comment about New York City’s history for which she has no answer.


Over the course of “The Mythmakers,” it’s arguably Moira who emerges as the novel’s most intriguing character. She’s a scientist, one who’s equally at home discussing quantum entanglement or the potential for life elsewhere in the universe as she is recounting her own life to Sal. Reading the novel, certain moments seem to echo one another. The role of happenstance and coincidence here takes on a greater sense; at one point, Martin learns that “his greatest fear – that someone else would write the story he was writing” – had been realized.

“The Mythmakers” is a relatively quiet novel, one that could be mistaken for a chamber drama until you’re immersed in the narrative that Weir establishes. Tonally, it finds a balance between the knowing take on contemporary issues of Adelle Waldman’s “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.” and the invigorating literary mystery of A.S. Byatt’s “Possession.” It also features some bravura moves of its own, from a structure that constantly reframes what’s come before it to a sense that a lot of the casual references found within – from quantum physics to the life and works of Vladimir Nabokov – are there for a reason.

Alternately, it has the spontaneity of lived experience and the weight of painstaking craft, a novel that reckons with, in Sal’s words, “the story I wanted versus the one that was true,” and finds the revelatory qualities in both.

New York City resident Tobias Carroll is the author of three books: “Political Sign,” “Reel” and “Transitory.” He has reviewed books for the New York Times, Bookforum, the Star Tribune and elsewhere.

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