The Fifth Wall

In this debut novel by Rachel Nagelberg, conceptual artist Sheila B. Ackerman heeds a mysterious urge to return to her estranged family home and arrives at the exact moment of her mother’s suicide. In an attempt to cope with and understand her own self destructive tendencies, Sheila plants a camera on the lawn outside the house to film 24/7 while workers deconstruct the physical object that encases so many of her memories. Meanwhile, as she begins to experience frequent blackouts, she finds herself hunting a robot drone through the San Francisco MOMA with a baseball bat, part of a provocative, technological show, The Last Art, and resuming a violent affair with her college professor. With a backdrop of post-9/11 San Francisco, Sheila navigates the social-media-obsessed, draught-ridden landscape of her life, exploring the frail line between the human impulse to control everything that takes place around us and the futility of excessive effort to do so. Combining the emotional depth of Eileen Myles with a plot worthy of a David Lynch film, this readable, literary, and thought-provoking work is for anyone who questions the status quo.

A close artistic cousin to Joni Murphy’s Double Teenage and Natasha Stagg’s Surveys, The Fifth Wall is a new kind of novel.  Female and philosophical, emotion flows through the book across a dense and familiarly incomprehensible web of information, from satellite selfies to awkward sex to internet beheadings and shamanic tourism in the third world. Nagelberg’s engrossing narration is littered with stunning perception: We look into the distance to be able to see what’s right in front of us.  She writes without affect, and with unselfconscious acuity. That is, she writes really well. –Chris Kraus, author of Where Art Belongs, and subject of two recent New Yorker pieces

Nagelberg has a true gift, able to write gorgeously on the line level with unctuous images. And simultaneously, there’s a readable page-turner here. Most of us are lucky to do one of those, which is a testament to the singular talent. This book cascades beauty and meaning and truth. —Joshua Mohr, author of All This Life and Termite Parade, a New York Times Editor’s Choice pick

The Fifth Wall crackles with braininess and sex. It’s hallucinatory and interactive and funny and sad and it has something incandescent to show you. Careful, you might get scorched. Come, take a look. —Stephen Beachy, author, film critic, and professor at the University of San Francisco

Rachel Nagelberg is an American novelist, poet, and conceptual artist living in Los Angeles. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of San Francisco and has had poems and stories published in numerous journals. She received a Lighthouse Works Fellowship in 2015. An excerpt from The Fifth Wall will appear in 3:AM.