The Impossibly (Hardcover)

A novel by Laird Hunt

“Hunt is an intellect and a great spinner of claustrophobic noir plots, and his erudite gumshoe yarn owes as much to Georges Perec and Gertrude Stein as it does to Paul Auster.”—The Believer

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September 2001
6 x 9 | 215 pages

ISBN: 978-1-56689-117-2.



Introduction by Percival Everett
Afterword by the author

The book that launched the New Wave literary noir movement—in paperback for the first time.

When the anonymous narrator botches an assignment from the clandestine organization that employs him, everyone in his life becomes a participant in his punishment. In the end, he is called out of retirement for a final assignment: to seek and identify his own assassin.

This edition includes an introduction by Percival Everett, an afterword by the author, and the novella, “Green Metal Door,” the first edition’s “lost chapter.”

NEW! Read Laird Hunt’s approach to writing The Impossibly in this Wall Street Journal article.


“Hunt is an intellect and a great spinner of claustrophobic noir plots, and his erudite gumshoe yarn owes as much to Georges Perec and Gertrude Stein as it does to Paul Auster.”—The Believer

“Every once in a long while, you discover a novel unlike anything else you’ve ever read. Laird Hunt’s debut is one of them. Innovative, comic, bizarre and beautiful, The Impossibly reads as if Donald Barthelme were channeling Alain Robbe-Grillet, Samuel Beckett, Ben Marcus and reruns of Get Smart.”—Time Out New York

“A fractured espionage story, John le Carré à la Borges.”—The Stranger

“For 200 pages, Hunt sustains an atmosphere of severe disorientation, packing his story with more curious and vaguely menacing strangers than a David Lynch movie. . . . The book’s many layers and difficult questions make it an ideal candidate for an adventurous book club.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

The Impossibly is one of the most exciting debut novels I have ever read. . . . While most Kafka comparisons are specious and overstated, Hunt’s subtle humor, sophisticated intelligence and the graceful timbre of his prose place this novel firmly in the tradition of The Castle, as well as Nabokov’s The Eye and Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser. This is high praise indeed, but The Impossibly is a marvelous, wonderful novel.”—Review of Contemporary Fiction

[Laird Hunt] captures the tone of Paul Auster’s City of Glass in the first few chapters, and he brings a decidedly Kafkaesque feel to the spy’s early adventures.”—Publishers Weekly

“Hunt debuts with a stylish, if opaque, noir tale about a hit man who falls in love, takes a break, and incurs the wrath of his organization. . . . The mystery runs at all levels here, and the style and situation have appeal.” —Kirkus Reviews

The Impossibly, Laird Hunt’s first novel, is a challenging and inventive work, alternately chilling and humorous, that breaks new ground in the world of speculative fiction. Diffuse with noir tropes stripped of their origins, it leaves the reader with a map of the complicit mind trying to deal with perversity and adversity in a violent world.”—Rain Taxi Review of Books

“From the title to the last, dreamlike passage, Hunt’s novel is a deliberate, sometimes striking conundrum, one with its origins deep in the heart of traditional genres (in particular, hardboiled detective fiction and international spy thrillers), but with ambitions that extend into knotty problems of narrative, language, and meaning.”—American Book Review


The conflated smell of onions and of some kind of meat and of stewed apples and of the animals and of cigar smoke and of, after a few minutes, singed hair and singed flesh is not a good one.

I am, pardon me, I repeated, telling you the truth, I suggested, all truth, etc., please please please, although I definitely did not suggest this in so many words.

The singed hair and the singed flesh part was about this: each time I answered I got burned on the back of the neck with the cigar. It was the tall, thin woman who would take the cigar, apparently, from my boss and place it against my neck.

I think that each time it was the tall, thin woman.

But it was impossible to be sure.

Those are just kisses, the boss would say, stuttering on the kisses part, so that it seemed to me, each time she never quite finished saying it, that I had received several kisses instead of just one.

Once, I went to a circus, the clowns and animals kind.

Once I say, but this was no really all that long ago … I had stumbled upon the circus by accident as I was following someone, and when I had finished following that someone, I went back to it, bought a ticket, and went in. Inside the orange and ochre tent it was all bright lights and flashes and drums and choreographed roars and clowns and odd movements and frightening voices and a woman standing on top of a horse and an elephant, finally, the feature, sitting in a car. Put your hands together, said the announcer, a dwarf on stilts, for Kisses the Driving Elephant, who was, in fact, driving, so to speak, an appropriately enormous convertible, using her trunk to turn the wheel.

Eventually, Kisses drove her car into a small pyramid of very short clowns.

Which hadn’t been meant to happen and hadn’t been all that funny.

In various parts of the world, at various times, they have used elephants to execute people. One way was the elephant would rear back and you would be tied to something and then it would come down on your head. Brave people, it was said, wouldn’t close their eyes. Those elephants were painted with all kinds of patterns. I forgot who told me about that. But at any rate I used to imagine it sometimes—lying there, eyes open, being brave, with the painted elephant rearing back.

I don’t think any of the very short clowns were badly hurt. Kisses, certainly, was not hurt, and she kept driving, around and around.

It was of Kisses the Driving Elephant, at any rate, that I thought, and of elephants in general, and of those painted elephants, as they applied, for perhaps the sixth or seventh time, of great big elephants and of jeering onlookers, on of their kisses to the back of my neck.

Insofar as I was able to think.


Finalist, Firecracker Alternative Book Award