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Ann Beattie will publish her 19th book, The State We're In: Maine Stories, in August.

Certain debut novels become so instantly well known that they magnetize readers to their force fields at the expense of other writers' first books, which is the only explanation I can think of for why Clark Blaise's Lunar Attractions isn't already on everyone's radar. Blaise's beautifully written novel reads as if intended to be absorbed in one great gulp, a story whose protagonist functions as both reporter and subject being reported on—not so unusual. What sets the book apart is how the author trusts the visual—using language infused, in the author's words, with "atmospheres and geographies, pattern and contour" that work their way into his subconscious—to convey and emphasize meaning.

Halfway through this narrative of a young boy and his gradually less circumscribed world, we're told: "Another thing I know—and I have learned it as I write—is that my kind of innocence, because it is so complicated, is the most dangerous, most corrupt kind of knowledge. We all 'know' this, of course—what is propriety but the stench of repression?" Aha! So the character is a writer. And like so many questions in life and in fiction, to ask the question is also to answer it; questions create character as they express personal concerns.

Based in Palestra (a.k.a. Pittsburgh), and in inherently mysterious Florida, the novel features a sad shocker of a sex scene that certainly doesn't end with a cigarette or a midnight dish of ice cream. Without flinching, Blaise underscores the subtext of his tale with a kind of pantomime that darkly enlightens the character. And reader.