Book Review: The Lookback Window by Kyle Dillon Hertz

May 16, 2023

The Lookback Window, Kyle Dillon Hertz’s forthcoming novel from Simon & Schuster, pulls no punches. When I read early drafts in a workshop led by Jeffrey Eugenides in early 2020, right before the pandemic would completely change the way we write, work, and workshop, I immediately knew Hertz had something rare and special. The pages were dazzling and jewel-like, Hertz’s prose stunning from the first lines: “The sky was as blue as any other perfect conspiracy.” Our little workshop was shaken by Hertz’s hedonistic, magical, and terrifying world, but we were also fascinated and addicted, much like his narrator, Dylan. In the next few years, Hertz would take these pages and create something truly revolutionary.

The premise of The Lookback Window hinges on The Child Victims Act, a recent piece of legislation that opens a “lookback window” for victims of child sexual abuse whose statutes of limitation have run out, allowing them to pursue civil cases. Dylan, the protagonist, is the victim of brutal sexual abuse at the hands of Vincent and other men who he has been sold to between the ages of fourteen and eighteen; now at twenty-six, he is about to get married and wants to forget, but finds he cannot escape. Through a miasma of sex, drugs, and simply gorgeous writing, the love child of Denis Johnson and Lana Del Rey, Hertz has created a deeply memorable tale of a man on the search for healing—if healing from such an experience is even possible.

Dylan turns to a variety of avenues to both avoid and face his trauma—therapy with Matan, his court-appointed therapist, sex with a variety of partners, and near the end of the book, annihilation through drug abuse, all of which have various levels of success. What sets this book apart from other narratives of sex and drug abuse is Hertz’s prose, which continuously surprises and reveals. Hertz describes Dylan’s world in vivid color such as this description of his and his husband Moans’s experience on Fire Island:

“He nodded, distracted by the blue ice sculpture, glowing with moonlight, flushed every now and then with liquor, which cascaded terribly through the angel, resembling both blood and light, sucked out by whatever man waited with an open mouth.”

Hertz has a wonderful way with words, and his book is startlingly unafraid—Dylan’s childhood sexual abuse is described in painfully graphic detail, from the blood on Dylan’s underwear to the way that his abuser would urinate inside of him to push drugs into his system. This is an urgent, necessary book, for not only its graphic content, which proves no fear, but also because it shows the commonality of abuse, and the way it affects both genders. Midway through the book, Dylan meets another victim, a man named Alexander, and their mutually assured destruction becomes a recurring theme throughout. On the subject of the universality of assault, he says:

“I would like to institute a test, like the Bechdel…Let’s say that it’s true that one out of every four men are actually assaulted. I want people to count the men in their lives, in their families, and I want them to calculate how many men they know to have been assaulted. I think more men know this than women. I wish I could tell you why.”

Obviously, they are two drunk, terrified men, talking in a bar, but some of this rings true. It is well-established that women are the frequent victims of assault, but when men are assaulted, there is a huge stigma and infrequency of reporting, especially when the victim is a child and doesn’t have the resources to speak up. Hertz has done the most difficult of tasks—he has spoken for those who do not have a voice, and this voice is brilliant, conversational, vivid, and addictive.

In our early workshops, the group worried that these vignettes would feel fractured or fragmented, but Hertz has built out the connective tissue between the individual moments of this novel so that the New York City of The Lookback Window feels robust and real. If I had any complaints, it would be that certain moments feel obsessive and repetitive, while others aren’t elaborated on or are dropped off—the end of Dylan’s marriage wraps up to quickly, almost as if it’s put to bed, and Alexander’s character seems to disappear. But it’s a weighty novel, and some sleight of hand is necessary to get it off the ground.

To be a part of any great novel’s journey is an honor, and I am proud to be an early reader of The Lookback Window, as well as glad to be able to review it now. Hertz has written a novel which deals with trauma, healing, and what it means to be a victim, trying to answer some of these questions. Readers of The Loopback Window will find healing and solidarity in this novel, even if they don’t find answers, as Dylan doesn’t—some of these questions aren’t answerable. But they will find joy in Hertz’s spellbinding writing, and perhaps through his journey, they will find some peace, some hope for the future, and some notion that they are not alone.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication date: August 1, 2023

Reviewed by Joanna Acevedo




At The Masters Review, our mission is to support emerging writers. We only accept submissions from writers who can benefit from a larger platform: typically, writers without published novels or story collections or with low circulation. We publish fiction and nonfiction online year-round and put out an annual anthology of the ten best emerging writers in the country, judged by an expert in the field. We publish craft essays, interviews and book reviews and hold workshops that connect emerging and established writers.

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