The Swank Hotel
At the outset of the 2008 financial crisis, Em has a dependable, dull marketing job generating reports of vague utility while she anxiously waits to hear news of her sister, Ad, who has gone missing — again. Em’s days pass drifting back and forth between her respectably cute starter house (bought with a “responsible, salary-backed, fixed-rate mortgage”) and her dreary office. Then something unthinkable, something impossible happens and she begins to see how madness permeates everything around her while the mundane spaces she inhabits are transformed, through Lucy Corin’s idiosyncratic magic, into shimmering sites of the uncanny.
The story that swirls around Em moves through several perspectives and voices. There is Frank, the tart-tongued, failing manager at her office; Jack, the man with whom Frank has had a love affair for decades; Em and Ad’s eccentric parents who live in a house that is perpetually being built; and Tasio, the young man from Chiapas who works for them and falls in love with Ad. Through them Corin portrays porousness and breakdown in individuals and families, in economies and political systems, in architecture, technology, and even in language itself.
The Swank Hotel is an acrobatic, unforgettable, surreal, and unexpectedly comic novel that interrogates the illusory dream of stability that pervaded early twenty-first century America.
Whenever the dull carapace of cliché seems to swallow the world, I reach for Lucy Corin’s books and the violent magic of her storytelling. Here is a writer light-years ahead of her time returning to explore the recent past of our ongoing American crises. The Swank Hotel is premonitory and grief-stricken and somehow gregarious in its lonesomeness, so generous in its weird humor and waterfalling surprises. In her capacious vision, the “rattlesnakes of madness” twine through a world of starter homes and desktop screen savers, crushing debt and missing sisters, a cruel, bewildering America where the runestones of love and home can still, miraculously, make sense of us.
Vivid, turbulent, intense, The Swank Hotel affirms, blow-by-blow, our loneliness, madness, and longing for a place to settle down. Lucy Corin’s promiscuous gaze illuminates the impossibility of repairing the breakdown by rebuilding the house from the outside in rather than from the inside out.
Corin’s novel unveils the madness that permeates society by scrutinizing trauma, cultural expectations, and the political and economic climate of the twenty-first century.
In The Swank Hotel, Lucy Corin brilliantly fashions a world where grief, familial love, ambulation, and detection are entwined as four dimensions of the same problem: time. Being in time. Accounting for one’s time. Accounting for time spent with others. Here we are offered a place where people who have passed through can go on existing and people who are present can be shattered so thoroughly that they end up everywhere — where the dead go, where the living wander, where the future holds. This is a devastating, enthralling, and mysteriously hopeful adventure.
With love, brilliance, humor, and weird wild energy, Lucy Corin has written a perfect story of death and rebirth, of sisters, mothers, lovers, of madness, of a broken, rocky modern world. No one writes like her. No one could. Every page of The Swank Hotel is hilarious, heartbreaking, strange. To follow Em and Ad, and the other radiant characters in this novel, is to follow Jane Bowles straight into the future.
“Marked by Corin’s limber voice, this brims with genuine depth and humor.”
Excerpt of post-election collaborative project in Harper’s “Readings.”
I used passages cut from my novel in progress to make a story for McSweeney’s 50th issue. It’s a beautiful collection of work with all the gorgeous surprises you expect (ha) from McS design.