A mesmerizing opus by a first-time novelist worth remembering, The Method Actors trails a group of smart, stylish twentysomethings in Tokyo, where ideas of dislocation apply to the simplest comings and goings. Transplanted there from homes they'd just as soon forget, the friends wander with and around each other, sharing beds and drugs and histories, in search of a brilliant young historian who doesn't want to be found. The reason for his disappearance remains elusive, but it seems to have something to do with the work of a rogue botanist who engineers a highly potent strain of psychedelic mushrooms.
All the pieces are in place for a novel of fizzy dreams and fuzzy anxieties, which Carl Shuker delivers with an overflow of grace and ambition. Angling toward David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo in terms of style and tone, Shuker spies the internal and external worlds of characters who lose track of where one begins and the other ends. The historian develops his preoccupation with wartime atrocity into a heady consideration of the hallucinatory pull of history, which describes much of the way his friends and family go about living in the world. "Once peoples find themselves both capable and motivated in lying for a cause the concept of truth is immediately anachronism," one of the historian's interview subjects says in a cryptic film unearthed after his disappearance. It's a mystery how such a phenomenon takes hold, but it's less mysterious how the historian could go mad reconciling such a state with his utter rootlessness.
Shuker doesn't keep an especially tight hold on his ostensible themes, and his network of characters occasionally sprawls out of control, but The Method Actors nonetheless stands as a serious accomplishment. It's cerebral and probing, but also highly entertaining in the ways it surveys a city as rich for survey as Tokyo. The characters spend a lot of time mulling twentysomething dilemmas and delights in strange restaurants, commuter trains, cramped apartments, and streets that buzz with light and the noise of language. It's a rich backdrop for a novel that makes an impressive show of feeling lost and found at the same time.