Assumption A Novel

Percival Everett

Graywolf Press



272 Pages



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Ogden Walker, deputy sheriff of a small New Mexico town, is on the trail of an old woman’s murderer. But at the crime scene, his are the only footprints leading up to and away from her door. Something is amiss, and even his mother knows it. As other cases pile up, Ogden gives chase, pursuing flimsy leads for even flimsier reasons. His hunt leads him from the seamier side of Denver to a hippie commune as he seeks the puzzling solution.


Praise for Assumption

"New Mexico is a place of great beauty and great melancholy, and, like all of the American West, a magnet for misfits. Willa Cather captured these aspects in her classic 1927 novel Death Comes for the Archbishop. Now Percival Everett . . . vividly evokes the same elements in Assumption, his new trilogy of interwoven murder mysteries . . . Everett casts his line, as it were, pretty far, and some of the things he reels in, along with a few red herrings, are weighty indeed: racism, anomie, disillusionment, the meaning (or lack thereof) of one man’s life—the American nightmare, in brief, at the end of the line. The settings, the protagonist and the eccentric and pathetic cast of characters will haunt you long after you close the book. I haven’t read anything like it since Georges Simenon. And, as in Simenon’s Inspector Maigret novels, the prevailing mood is one of existential despair."—Roger Boylan, The New York Times Book Review

"Percival Everett has made a career out of flouting expectations. A bold and prolific novelist, he has forged a nervy, caustic body of work that defies easy categorization."—Los Angeles Times

"Assumption is a novel-length trilogy of stories about Deputy Sheriff Ogden Walker of Plata County, N.M., and three intricate and unusual crimes that occur in his jurisdiction. In the first two stories, Walker solves bizarre murder mysteries that have quirky twists. The third story, significantly more disconcerting than the first two, is uncanny in the way it captures the texture of a nightmare, as it presents an astonishing portrait of grim rural poverty along with the devastating effects of small-town ennui . . . Assumption, rather obviously, is about making assumptions in criminal investigations where things are not as they seem. But the title also can refer to Everett's diverse talents and what assumptions have been made about his literary output. In a sense, it could be about being pigeonholed. Thus, for those who know Everett's work, his vast knowledge of literary theory and insights into race are kept backstage, as they helped build the set. But for those who are unfamiliar with Everett, it makes no difference: These stories stand alone as fun and provocative tales."—Paul Devlin, San Francisco Chronicle

"In Assumption, Everett takes his turn at the police procedural, featuring Plata, New Mexico, Deputy Sheriff Ogden Walker. At the outset of the book, the small-town officer investigates the murder of an elderly woman. But that murder is wrapped up about a third of the way into the novel, and then another case takes us through the middle section, and then one more closes the book out. It’s an ingenious if quotidian variation on the crime novel: Walker’s life becomes more about the daunting accumulation of crime than about the maze of solving just one. To say anything about what Walker is really chasing, or where he ends up, would count as an unforgivable spoiler. As in Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, the metaphysics of the story are the most mystifying. Like many of Everett’s books, Assumption’s handling of race is complex and subtle, playing out both on the surface and the depths. Walker’s biracial identity—African-American father, white mother—puts him at vaguely menacing odds with his community at first, but then racial concerns fade away. But there’s a general discomfort to Walker, one that animates both his investigations and the book’s loose plot. Race isn’t at the center of the book; it pervades every page."—Jonathan Messinger, Time Out Chicago

"America's preeminent post-racial novelist."—London Review of Books

"Half zen koan, half Jim Thompson, and 100 percent Percival Everett, the twined mysteries of Assumption provide all the lively satisfactions of 'genre' fiction, while describing yet another arc in the trajectory of Everett's brilliant and protean career. In these spare, funny, and violent studies of the nature of identity and truth, Everett shows again that he is a learned student in the art of fiction in addition to being one of its most able practitioners."Christopher Sorrentino

"The latest from Everett has all the markings of a mystery novel: a detective, a series of crimes, a sense that people and events might be connected in ways that aren't initially evident. At least such are the assumptions of deputy sheriff Ogden Walker, a black man amid the desert of New Mexico, where most others are white, 'in that hick-full, redneck county,' but are more often distinguished by their drug habits (primarily meth) and lack of teeth, limbs or both. Readers of this world through the eyes of Ogden and will agree with his mother that 'You're a good man, Ogden. There are not a lot of good men around.' . . . The book is divided into three cases, each separate from the others, and none really solved in a conventional sense by Walker and his occasional partner Warren. In fact, each ends abruptly, surprisingly, without culminating in an accumulation of evidence. When the trail of a suspect leads to a series of dead ends, Ogden realizes that 'the longer he drove around Denver, asking his stupid questions, the less he knew what he was doing. And he'd only been there a day; how much could he not know in a week?' Ultimately, readers come to suspect that perhaps Ogden doesn't know himself and that neither do those with whom he works and lives. There are recurring motifs—shifting or mistaken identities, women who initially might seem like a suitable wife for Ogden, mothers, disappearing suspects (or bodies), drug conspiracies and big stashes of cash."—Kirkus Reviews

"Ogden Walker is a deputy sheriff in a sleepy New Mexico town where little ever seems to happen. That begins to change when an old woman he has just visited is murdered and a young woman is later found dead in a remote cabin. Walker finds himself traveling from Denver to Dallas and throughout New Mexico to investigate a baffling and bloody series of crimes involving drugs, guns, and a mysterious box of money. His task is complicated because he's African American, and this provokes suspicion even from townsfolk who have known him for some time. The novel is ultimately a loosely linked group of three stories unified by a central character, with the title referring as much to the reader's expectations as to the process of investigating a crime."—Library Journal

"Everett, who has put his uniquely wacky spin on genres from Greek myths to westerns, does the same for crime fiction . . . Deputy Ogden Walker, the son of a black father and a white mother, investigates cases for Sheriff Bucky Paz in a 'hick-full, redneck county' of New Mexico. He takes a gun away from elderly Emma Bickers after she alarms neighbors by shooting through her door at an unknown figure. Then four bodies turn up at a camp site, including one Ogden spotted in a photo at Bickers’s house. He helps Caitlin Alison, who’s come from Ireland, in her search for her missing cousin, Fiona McDonough, living somewhere in the mountains. Finally, at the request of game and fish patrolman Terry Lowell, Walker takes charge of an 11-year-old boy, the nephew of the poacher Lowell just arrested. Walker, who observes that 'nothing makes people more interesting than their being dead,' finds plenty of bodies in this often bleak and shocking tale."—Publishers Weekly

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Percival Everett is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California and the author of eighteen novels, including I Am Not Sidney Poitier, The Water Cure, Wounded, Erasure, and Glyph.

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  • Percival Everett

  • Percival Everett is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California and the author of eighteen novels, including I Am Not Sidney Poitier, The Water Cure, Wounded, Erasure, and Glyph.