ISBN-10: 1566896363
ISBN-13: 9781566896368
Publisher: Coffee House Press
Publish Date: 05/10/2022
Dimensions: 7.70" L, 5.00" W, 0.70" H

Saint Sebastian’s Abyss


Price: $16.95


“What I wanted more than anything was to be standing beside Schmidt, in concert with Schmidt, at the foot of Saint Sebastian’s Abyss along with Schmidt, hands cupped to the sides of our faces, debating art, transcendence, and the glory of the apocalypse.”

Former best friends who built their careers writing about a single work of art meet after a decades-long falling-out. One of them, called to the other’s deathbed for unknown reasons by a “relatively short” nine-page email, spends his flight to Berlin reflecting on Dutch Renaissance painter Count Hugo Beckenbauer and his masterpiece, Saint Sebastian’s Abyss, the work that established both men as important art critics and also destroyed their relationship. A darkly comic meditation on art, obsession, and the enigmatic power of friendship, Saint Sebastian’s Abyss stalks the museum halls of Europe, feverishly seeking salvation, annihilation, and the meaning of belief.


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May Indie Next List
Publishers Weekly, "Summer Reads 2022"

"[Saint Sebastian's Abyss] poses huge questions that tax the heart as much as the brain. . . . Haber's slim volume quietly contemplates a possible distinction of art and not-art, as well as the nature of authority and of elitism. Taut as a drum, it also calls to mind the early novellas of Roberto Bolaño and reads, at times, like an outtake from William Gaddis's The Recognitions." –Andrew Ervin, The Brooklyn Rail

"A delightful and dizzying excursion into the relationship between art and criticism, and all the ways that we often deceive ourselves about the things and people we love. Concise and deftly rendered, it moves forward like a rocket–or more accurately, like the transatlantic flight his unnamed American narrator takes to visit his friend and nemesis Schmidt in Berlin. . . . In each of their lives, the painting has become a kind of mirror, reflecting their ideas and their assertions back upon themselves." –David L. Ulin, Alta Journal

"Haber writes in a deliberately hyperbolic literary style that is a lot of fun, provided you're the type of person who has a sense of humor about your own pretensions. His work reads like it has been translated from a Balkan language by an unfunny academic, which makes it, paradoxically, utterly engaging. This, Haber's second novel, takes on art, professional rivalry, and male friendship. It is an all-too-brief delight!" –Ed Nowatka, Publishers Weekly

"[A] careful, fuguelike intellectual satire. . . . Haber deliberately withholds details about the painting itself–we know there's a donkey, a cliffside, rays of light, and apostles, but not enough to sense why [his characters] are so thunderstruck. And in a way, they hardly seem to know themselves. . . . A darkly funny novel about the wages of small-stakes intellectual combat." Kirkus

"Saint Sebastian's Abyss feels exactly like the description of the painting–deceitfully small in scale, containing a cosmic abyss at its center. The mimetic impulse between the book and its themes pervades the whole reading experience. Aesthetic value, history, institutions, criticism, authorship, material conditions–these are only some of the terms in the critical constellation that emerges in Haber's beautiful, elegant novel." –Hernan Diaz

"A brilliantly sustained performance: clever, droll and entrancing. Mark Haber creates something entirely new, and greatly impressive, within the Bernhardian universe." –Chloe Aridjis

"The narrative follows the self-serious and hilarious antics of two friends-turned-rivals as they attempt to unlock the meaning of what is, by all accounts, an insignificant work by a raving and perverse madman from the 16th century. With the absurdity of academia and the meaninglessness of capital D discourse as his fodder, Haber has written one of my favorite books of 2022." –Bennard F., Politics & Prose Bookstore

"In Saint Sebastian's Abyss, we are swept away by the hilarious and misguided preoccupations of two compulsive pedants, a comedy duo, whose misadventures are as irresistible as they are outrageous." –Rikki Ducornet

"There is a refreshing lightsomeness to the writing in Mark Haber's new novel about art and the absurdity of academic life. The mix of love and hostility exchanged between the two art critics in this novel is both endearing and ridiculous at once. Their territorial battles over the same work of art, their willingness to upend their marriages and much of their lives over a single painting, made me laugh aloud with recognition. An absolute delight, and Haber's love of writing comes through on every page." –Idra Novey

"Something about the deadpan confidence of Haber's work has the power to convince me that imaginary paintings are real, conjured writers have walked the Earth, and the sky is purple and filled with green clouds. We're all gullible neophytes before Mark Haber's breathless novels. Saint Sebastian's Abyss is one of the first of its kind by an American writer, a sleek novel about Renaissance art, rivalry between friends and devotees, the 'perilous promise of a dead canvas, ' and the meaning of the obsessions that orbit our careers (and what happens when we glimpse, even briefly, meaninglessness and the abyss beyond our singular obsessions). There's not a single sentence in this book that isn't ecstatic. To read it once is staggering; to read it again is necessary." –Spencer Ruchti, Third Place Books

"The master of absurdity returns with a tale of two pedants in search of transcendence (and, of course, a holy donkey). Haber's prose is hypnotizing, pulling the reader through his character-driven novel as surely as languorous paint strokes lead an eye across a canvas. Saint Sebastian's Abyss is obsessive, reverent, and so unique." –Laura Graveline, Brazos Bookstore

"I loved everything about Saint Sebastian's Abyss. A fantastic tale of the glories and tribulations of chasing an ecstatic relationship to art." –Matt Bell

"What a wonderful, short shock of a novel this is. A superb exploration of friendship and enmity through a single painting of a long-dead and exquisitely imagined artist. An amazing meditation on life, loss, meaning, and suffocation. Funny, dark, strange, gothic, and beautiful–an extraordinary journey through three broken lives." –Edward Carey

"In Saint Sebastian's Abyss, art is the most important thing in the world, or the least; a holy calling or a pastime for narcissists; secular prayer or something that can be traded for sex. With exuberant wit and a superb array of fine-edged paradoxes, Mark Haber flays art of its pieties and pretensions, and when the cutting's done, he has us look to see if anything's left." –Adam Sachs

"Evocative of the work of Thomas Bernhard, László Krasznahorkai, Gilbert Sorrentino, and other great literary obsessives of a satirical stripe, Saint Sebastian's Abyss by Mark Haber is whip smart, scalpel sharp, wicked funny, and, ultimately, genuinely moving. Fans of Haber's excellent Reinhardt's Garden are in for a serious treat with this one. I loved it and can't wait to see what comes next." –Laird Hunt

Praise for
Reinhardt's Garden

Longlisted for the 2020 PEN/Hemingway Award for a Debut Novel
The Millions, "
Most Anticipated of 2019"
Texas Observer, "Best Texas Books of the Decade"

"Evokes Gertrude Stein, contemporary European and South American writers like Matthias Énard, Roberto Bolaño, and César Aira, with the Quixotic atmosphere of Werner Herzog films like Fitzcarraldo. . . . A strange but lavishly imagined tale of a hard-to-describe feeling." –Kirkus

"An exhilarating fever dream about the search for the secret of melancholy. . . . Haber's dizzying vision dextrously leads readers right into the melancholic heart of darkness." –Publishers Weekly

"Heart of Darkness viewed in a fun house mirror." Library Journal

"Haber, who has been called 'one of the most influential yet low-key of tastemakers in the book world, ' is about to raise it up a level with the debut of his novel." –The Millions

"An enchanting story of satirical wit, dark humor, and luminous creativity. . . . An exhilarating grand adventure of passion, obsession and lunacy."–The Literary Review

"Outstanding . . . the descent into the heart of darkness at the very core of modernity." BOMB Magazine

"Hilarious and thrilling. . . . This novel may look like something new, but it reads like that timeless treat, a rollicking good yarn." –Star Tribune

"The cynicism of Haber's book is tempered with a sweetness that gives it a lovely innovative piece of fiction." Houston Chronicle

An absurdist delight, a grand adventure of passion and lunacy, a brilliant book about melancholy that is anything but doleful."Texas Monthly

"There is a strange, beautiful aesthetic in the spun thread of tightly, smoothly laminated prose. . . . to accomplish this art in narration, and Haber has, is masterful, touching on genius." –Lone Star Literary Life

"Every time I try to talk about fellow Texas  bookseller Mark Haber's debut novel, Reinhardt's Garden, I always find myself saying different, rambling things about it. Written in one long paragraph, this feels more like a long, frantic piano piece, or like cutting through the jungle with a machete, and I recommend it to fearless readers everywhere." –Fernando A. Flores

"In prose as sure as a poison-laced dart, Mark Haber takes the reader on a delirious journey to the heart of melancholy." –Sjón

"Jacov Reinhardt and his faithful assistant roam South America in a quixotic search for the essence of melancholy–an enterprise that makes Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, their rough contemporary, come off as a levelheaded pragmatist. To follow Reinhardt, fueled by amounts of cocaine not even Sigmund Freud could have managed, is to walk into a fascinating literary maze that spans from Ulrich Schmidl's chronicles to the decadent movements in turn-of-the-century Europe and Latin America. Melancholy has never felt more euphoric than in Mark Haber's breathless paragraph-long novel." –Hernan Diaz

"An adventurous journey into the country of melancholy. A fascinating dissection of human vulnerability." –Guadalupe Nettel

"Reinhardt's Garden is one of those perfect books that looks small and exotic and melancholic from the outside but, once in, is immense and exultant in the best possible way. Think Amulet by Roberto Bolaño, think Nightwood by Djuna Barnes, think Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, think Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, think Zama by Antonio Di Benedetto, think The Loser by Thomas Bernhard. Think." –Rodrigo Fresán

"It's official: Mark Haber's novel about melancholy is a laugh riot. Narrated by the devoted assistant of pseudo-intellectual Jacov Reinhardt, the reader follows along for their increasingly misbegotten, cocaine-fueled adventures across Europe and South America. Told in one long, feverish paragraph with sentences that surprise at nearly every turn, Reinhardt's Garden is a gorgeous, joyful, tiny epic. I loved it, and more importantly it got me out of yet another reading rut. Preorder this bad boy from an indie bookstore or Coffee House Press please!" –Annie Metcalf, Magers and Quinn Booksellers

Praise for Mark Haber

"[Mark Haber's] infinite, fast-paced energy is transparent in the way these stories are constructed. There is no room for awkward silence or meaningless descriptions; everything fits as in a well-told joke that builds on its own momentum. His prose maintains not only a rhythm that seems like a continued punch-line but when it finally arrives at a safe landing place it delivers a terrible reality: the absurdity of failure in his characters' conditions of possibility tells us way more than what we expected. It is humbling and depressing, all at once." –Bruno Ríos, Argonáutica

More Reviews


ISBN-10: 1566896363
ISBN-13: 9781566896368
Publisher: Coffee House Press
Publish Date: 05/10/2022
Dimensions: 7.70" L, 5.00" W, 0.70" H
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