MacLeish Sq. is a haunting and lyrical novel that blurs the boundaries between reality and illusion, present and past; Dennis Must explores the power of memory, guilt, and redemption in the lives of two men who share a dark secret.
The novel begins when John Proctor, a reclusive artist nearing seventy, invites a young man named Eli into his isolated studio on a cold winter night. Eli claims to be the grandson of John’s former wife, whom he left after a brief and unhappy marriage. He also reveals that John is the father of his mother, whom he never met. John is shocked but intrigued by this unexpected visitor, who seems to know more about him than he does himself. As the night progresses, John and Eli engage in a tense and intimate conversation, in which they gradually reveal their stories, their regrets, and their hopes. John recounts his troubled past, and Eli tells of his lonely childhood, his obsession with his mysterious grandmother, and his quest to find his father. Both men are haunted by the memory of the woman who connects them, and by the secrets they have kept for so long, which slowly but surely begin to unravel in strange and unexpected ways.

MacLeish Sq. is a mind-bending treat for anyone with the constitution to get swept up in the spooky, the complex, and the personification of story. Must invokes the dark history and folklore of New England, which echoes throughout the long-winding conversation between the book’s two main characters. The novel alternates between John’s and Eli’s perspectives, creating a complex and layered narrative that blends realism and myth with impeccable harmony. Must skilfully portrays the psychological and emotional struggles of the characters, as well as the vivid details of their surroundings. At points, the dialogue is sparse, and at others, it is long and hypnotic. Must plays with duality masterfully in ways that highlight the book’s most prominent message. The novel also explores themes such as identity, family, art, love, and forgiveness, in a way that is both poetic and compelling.

Though few and far between, MacLeish Sq. features haunting illustrations by Russ Spitkovsky that add a delightful dimension to the narrative. His style is marked by colorless pencil drawings that emphasize line work and shadows, highlighting the book’s already eerie quality. Though the story isn’t especially action-driven, Must and Spitkovsky work together to produce an unsettling tone filled with tension that slowly shifts and morphs over time before the reader can even recognize it. Their ability to produce a kind of intellectual uneasiness — a funhouse mirror effect — is, by far, the novel’s most compelling quality. And yet, despite the unsteady ground on which most of the novel stands, its ending brings with it a surprising sense of closure and resolution.

MacLeish Sq. is a trip you don’t want to miss; Must and Spitkovsky offer a spellbinding examination of the nature of reality and the stories that we tell ourselves about who we are.