Doon Arbus

Doon Arbus

Doon Arbus is a writer. She was born in New York City and never really left. The author of six nonfiction books, she makes her debut as a novelist with The Caretaker. She is also a freelance journalist: in her reportage work, she frequently wrestles with the hidden codes in a subject’s spoken language, its hesitations and reversals, allowing what the speaker seeks to obscure to become the revelation. Two of her nonfiction books, co-authored with longtime collaborator Richard Avedon, integrate her text and his photographs to craft a collision of words and images into single labyrinthine narratives. The fact that she has been responsible for the care and dissemination of her mother’s photographic work for the past fifty years could suggest that a book entitled The Caretaker might relate to the author’s personal experience, but the protagonist of this novel is a most singular man and his story is his own.

The Caretaker

Fiction by Doon Arbus

Following the death of a renowned and eccentric collector—author of Stuff, a seminal philosophical work on the art of accumulation—the fate of the privately endowed museum he cherished falls to a peripatetic stranger who had been his fervent admirer. This peculiar institution (The Society for the Preservation of the Legacy of Dr. Charles Alexander Morgan) is dedicated to the annihilation of hierarchy: peerless antiquities commune happily with the ignored, the discarded, the undervalued and the valueless.…
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Doon Arbus’s beautiful, moving, original novel does just what we want a novel to do: It creates a fictional world that reflects, illuminates and reveals the ‘real’ world we live in. This wryly funny, subversively philosophical book is brief—yet deep enough to contain humans and objects, love and death, memory and amnesia, oblivion and survival. It generates its own musical score: a phrase of Satie, a few notes of the Well-Tempered Clavier, and then the Beethoven sonata.
—Francine Prose
There’s a ringing prescience to the book’s philosophy that feels precisely contemporary. Curation is an obligation that’s crept up on us. Isolation and ceaseless data have made caretakers of us all, shut-in keepers of playlists and timelines, quarantined arrangers of meaningless objects. As such, The Caretaker acts as an analogue telling of a virtual predicament.
The Cardiff Review
Arbus takes the narrative into a realm where hallucination, perhaps, a trace of the supernatural, just maybe, and obsession, undoubtedly, are the only keys to the riddle that she, no mean trickster, has conjured up. And it is made even more disorienting by Arbus’s distinctive voice, calm, wry, deadpan amid absurdity, and yet capable of lyricism at unexpected moments.
—Andrew Stuttaford, New Criterion
An enigmatic and necessary book.
Ploughshares
Taking cues from tales by Kafka and Robert Walser, Arbus pulls off an unnerving feat of contemporary postmodernism. A sly debut novel.
Publishers Weekly
Doon Arbus’s debut novel is a kind of mystery—about who we become, what the absent leave us with, and why. Dense, visual, and true, this short book speaks volumes about the theater of the mind, and how the ensuing comedic drama we call life unfolds inside and outside our control. A marvelous new voice.
—Hilton Als
For all its wit, The Caretaker is a quite unsettling study of obsession and madness that gradually creeps up on you and makes you complicit with the caretaker at the expense of his more bloodless antagonists because he at least has passion and the courage of his convictions. When I came to the end—which, like all perfect endings, is both surprising and inevitable—and was liberated from this closed, claustrophobic world, I wasn’t quite ready for it. The novel has a grip and once it lets you go, an imprint remains which leaves you with a slightly different gaze on the world around you.
—James Marsh (director of Man on Wire and The Theory of Everything)
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