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Shelter in Place

A Guardian Best Book of 2016
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2016

Set in the Pacific Northwest in the jittery, jacked-up early 1990s, Shelter in Place, by one of America’s most thrillingly defiant contemporary authors, is a stylish literary novel about the hereditary nature of mental illness, the fleeting intensity of youth, the obligations of family, and the dramatic consequences of love.

Joseph March, a twenty-one-year-old working class kid from Seattle, has just graduated from college and his future beckons, unencumbered, limitless, magnificent. Joe’s life implodes when he starts to suffer the symptoms of bipolar disorder, and, not long after, his mother, Anne-Marie March, beats a stranger to death with a hammer.

Joe moves to White Pine, Washington, where Anne-Marie is serving time and his father has set up house. He is followed by Tess Wolff, a fiercely independent woman with whom he is in love. Meanwhile, Joe’s mother is gradually being transformed into a national heroine. Many see her crime as a furious, exasperated act of righteous rebellion. Tess, too, is under her spell. Spurred on by Anne-Marie’s example, she enlists Joe in a secret, violent plan that will forever change their lives.

Maksik sings of modern America’s battered soul and of the lacerating emotions that make us human. Magnetic and masterfully told, Shelter in Place is about the things we are willing to die for, and those we’re willing to kill for.


“There’s something truly exhilarating about reading a novel that’s so audaciously original, so inventive and let’s be honest, so sort of weird that you want to put it in the hands of just about everyone you know. And that’s a perfect description of Alexander Maksik’s stunningly unsettling third novel, Shelter in Place.”

– The San Francisco Chronicle

“Alexander Maksik’s riveting and disturbing novel Shelter in Place is a totally original exploration of mental illness, sexual politics, family and violence.”

– The Guardian

“Alexander Maksik covers fresh ground with each new work. In poetic bursts…he captures [his characters’] inner convulsions while exploring the passions that can drive, and destroy, us.”

– Vanity Fair

Impressive . . . A novel of considerable power.

– The Times Literary Supplement 

A riveting, darkly beautiful novel . . . poised to be one of the big books of the season – the kind of sweeping story that encompasses so much of what it is to be human.

– Departures 

Sensual, musical . . . Shelter in Place is as unquestionably brilliant as it is painful; a rare meditation on mania, depression, and the rage of youth.

– The Huffington Post

“[A] striking narrative. . . Maksik’s Joe March is a man for today as much as Ishmael and Stephen were for Melville’s and Joyce’s days.”

– Shelf Awareness

“An incredibly courageous novel that delves deeply into issues of love, gender, violence and mental illness.”

– Chuck Robinson of Village Books in Publisher’s Weekly

“Maksik is one of the most exacting and daring writers we have . . . from the first sentence there’s no turning away from this story.”

– Literary Hub

“Intense and . . . mesmerizing.”

– Booklist

“[A] scorching third novel. Maksik [delivers] a portrait of bipolar disorder…that is honest and devastating.”

– Publisher’s Weekly

“Alexander Maksik is a sorcerer of the first order, and Shelter in Place is a sharp, dark, jagged music conjured out of poetry, pain and ecstatic bursts of beauty. This is a powerful book.”

– Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies and Arcadia

“An unsettling and beautiful exploration of mental illness, love, violence, family and sexual politics. Maksik’s artful story outruns all sorts of received ideas and cliched narratives, and slips into deeply original territory. You’ll be haunted by it in the best possible way.”

– Katie Roiphe, author of The Violet Hour and In Praise of Messy Lives

“Unsettling and honest, a remarkably insightful portrait of mental illness, Shelter in Place is elegiac, savage and mournful, a beautifully written novel about the echoes of our actions, of love and its consequences.”

– Aminatta Forna, author of The Hired Man and The Memory of Love

“Shelter In Place is a love story like none I’ve ever read before. Lust, longing, betrayal, revenge—it’s all here, but only when and where you least expect it. Densely ruminative, and bracingly unromantic, the ballad of Tess, Joe, and his parents tests the brutal outer-limits of patriarchy, the bleak realities of untreated mental illness, and the nature of loyalty in a world where every woman is out for herself. And every man, as well.”

– Kate Bolick, author of Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own

“Shelter in Place is a magnificent novel. Alexander Maksik charts the legacy of violence and the limits of justice with grace and power.”

– Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and The Tsar of Love and Techno

“Shelter in Place takes a brilliant look at the fractured, jagged nature of masculinity, at how gender warps consciousness in ways we struggle and fail to understand. Maksik writes from inside the fire of a mind unfiltered, unsettled, unresigned, a mind it would be too simple to call unwell. The narrator’s episodes of mania are glittering raptures, electric; his descents into the infinite nothingness of depression drawn so true to that state of absence, of blindness, of Styron’s ‘darkness visible,’ you feel all the numb trapped terror of it. This book’s cutting, unchecked prose makes you an accomplice to violence, and leads you to realize we all are—formed and directed by cruelty, whether as victims, agents, warriors, survivors, or witnesses. Shelter in Place poses the hard, important, and perhaps unanswerable question—how do you live with your self?”

– Merritt Tierce, author of Love Me Back