A provocative and incisive exploration of the nature of identity, and a disturbing portrait of the desperation manufactured by America’s culture of inequality.
“My name is Abe Kunstler. I was a soldier and a POW. I can draw wire, and I was wounded in the war.”
Abe Kunstler is a man whose very existence is forbidden. His life as a factory worker and World War II veteran is a lie, an invention forged in the heat of a terrible crime. Even Kunstler himself isn’t sure how far he’ll go to keep his secret: that he was born a woman, and his identity belongs to the man he once loved—and killed.
“A stunning debut. Utterly brilliant.”
Philipp Meyer, author of The Son
“This is storytelling on steroids. Tadzio Koelb is a writer’s writer, and his densely packed and evocative novel is as thrilling as it is disturbing.”
Jay Parini, author of The Last Station
“A novel uncompromisingly cut from the same startling bolt of literary cloth used by writers like Djuna Barnes, William Faulkner or James Baldwin. Abe Kunstler is as striking a key character—and Koelb’s depiction of him as challenging and rewarding in its execution—as Barnes’ Robin Vote, Faulkner’s Joe Christmas or Baldwin’s Sonny. This is writing that takes its reader most seriously.”
Laird Hunt, author of The Evening Road
“This is the story of courage, of knife-edge need, of a battle to be oneself and stay oneself. Tadzio Koelb’s imagining of his unforgettable protagonist is as tough as it is compassionate; his prose seduces not just because it is stunning, but because it is uncompromising in its pursuit of one character’s mutilated truth.”
Belinda McKeon, author of Tender
“Trenton Makes, Tadzio Koelb’s debut novel, is lyrical, brutal, unorthodox, and brilliantly unsettling. Koelb’s tale of Abe Kunstler’s journey across gender and through mid-century American time daringly eschews all simplistic feel-good tropes and truisms about gender. It unflinchingly narrates the brutality which underlies the daily performance of masculinity. His understanding and vision are those of a novelist who dares to push the boundaries of 21st century thought. Trenton Makesis a book which I can only hope the world is ready for.”
Robert Marshall, author of A Separate Reality
“The honed-steel sentences on display here – vivid and sharp and scarily persuasive – are all the more harrowing for the vulnerability they manage to convey. Abe Kunstler is a singular protagonist, and Trenton Makes is a passionate and original first novel.”
Garth Risk Hallberg, author of City on Fire
“Here is a novel of bewitching ingenuity, one whose darkling, melodic mind conceives a world of ruin and awe…Trenton Makes boasts the force of real freshness. It asserts its authenticity in the plinths and joists of its architecture, in the bold intricacies of character and plot, but also in the only spot that truly matters: the prose, the synapses between subject and utterance, a language that hums along the taut cord of its telling. A novel worthy…of that exclusive fluorescence called art.”
The New York Times
“Koelb’s is a distinctive voice. Has Kunstler chosen the form his body must take, or has the society he was born into chosen it for him? Masculinity and femininity are both prisons here; and social progress—so-called—comes at a price. Trenton Makes is a fascinating interrogation of the industrial American dream.”
The Financial Times
O the Oprah Magazine
“Koelb’s ability to maintain the high-wire act is astonishing.”
“An intimate and paranoid novel which situates readers deeply in the mind of a person trying to make sense of trauma, self-determination, and the related problem of the American Dream.”
The Brooklyn Rail
“Razor-sharp. Koelb’s imaginative novel of the ruse of identity in the post-war world is a powerful and resonant metaphor for a crumbling city and a society in flux.”
National Book Review
“A literary novel with noir in its heart, an unconventional look at masculinity and its cultural baggage. Timely and pertinent.”
“Deftly confronts gender, identity, and socioeconomic limits to create a piercing tragedy of a life caught between free will and utter desperation.”
“Taut and startling.”
The Dallas News
UK edition available August 2018 from Atlantic.
French edition available September 2018 from Buchet-Chastel.