Book Review: David Duchovny’s Miss Subways: A Novel

We at 25 Years Later would like to thank Farrar, Straus, and Giroux representatives Veronica Ingal and Sarita Varma for giving us the chance to review an advanced readers copy of David Duchovny’s Miss Subways: A Novel, which will be released May 1st, 2018. The audiobook version will be released on the same day and is narrated by the author, Tea Leoni, and their children, West and Millar Duchovny. The following spoiler-free review is conveyed as a conversation between staff writers and editors Rob E. King and Eileen G. Mykkels. This is the first book review/discussion on the site. We hope you enjoy it and pick up a copy of Duchovny’s book to join in our future discussions.


See the publisher’s summary here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374210403

Also see our coverage of this years season of The X-Files by Eileen G. Mykkels: https://25yearslatersite.com/category/tv/the-x-files/


Rob: So, we both spoke to the fact that David Duchovny has an ability in his writing to convey a sense that he really understands people. In that, I suppose I mean his characters feel genuine, and none of their traits feel labored. Without us spoiling the work, what about Emer conveys that to us?

Eileen: The scariest part about Emer is that I see not only a real person within her, nor even that I can recognize traits seemingly (but unlikely) bastardized from many acquaintances over the years, but rather that, even as early as the seventh page, it is quite clear that Emer exists even as several very particular and variably prominent aspects of my own self and personality. There is nothing about her that is so fantastical it cannot be believed, even in the midst of fantastical happenings. I could meet her on the street (or Subway) today as easily as a friend or neighbour.

Rob: Without having read the novel, just by reading its summary, one could come to this book expecting a plot that borrows from the conventions of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Did the novel read like that for you? Speaking to what I have taken as the strengths of this novel, how does this book resist that interpretation, meaning, what did David Duchovny really want to accomplish with this novel using mythology?

Eileen: While it has been suggested that Miss Subways shares something elementally with American God’s though the base concept is the same, the utilization is so vastly dissimilar as to hardly justify the comparison; the goals of the two books are as disparate as night and day, though the avenue to convey them is the same.

Using mythology, Duchovny (and in this aspect too, I suppose is Miss Subways a bit liken to American Gods) conveys the authenticity of culture in a particular location of the world in the modern age, in this case, New York. Culture has been important in all of Duchovny’s previous works, though it is never the main theme. One might argue that what Duchovny understands best of all is that, in order to convey an authentic tale, range of characters, et al, one must fully realize the many cultures that the story subsumes, or from which its characters come. Any world, fictional or otherwise, is bland and unrealistic without acknowledging the rich cultural histories to which the origin of the story or characters is owed.

Rob: What is this book—is it a romance, a coming of middle-age, a testament to New York? What do you think it is for the author?

Eileen: Miss Subways is many things. A nod to Duchovny’s Jewish heritage, his upbringing in New York, a distinctly feminist text with various political asides. A modern reality fantasy, its own oxymoron that such a story can exist, that something with themes so grounded in actuality can be focused on the fantastical and convince you that it is at all possible. Even the fantasy is mired in reality, be it history, mythology or even modern technology. Like all things in Miss Subways even the fantasy must adapt to the world in which it exists.

Rob: David Duchovny played an important character in Twin Peaks, one that dared to normalize the controversial for its time in a transgender character. Where am I going with this … he has been known to take some pretty quirky, perhaps edgy roles in his career, does this sense of interest come out in this novel or his previous novels? What makes Miss Subways uniquely a work of David Duchovny?

Eileen: As a male author writing a female main character in 2018, Duchovny is unapologetically honest, just as he was in Bucky F*cking Dent. Nothing is too shiny or perfect, but rather the assumed perfections are found in the often grungy, sometimes embarrassing reality of life – i.e. he pulls no punches. Be it in character racism, antisemitism, sexual encounters or even the simple act of regurgitation, Duchovny’s unwillingness to make pristine the baseness of human life is that which makes his books fantastic. It’s a bit like sitting down in a movie and actually watching a character use the bathroom – it simply doesn’t happen very often.

Rob: Is this a feminist text? And even if so, how is it also that and more?

Eileen: Duchovny has proven himself a capable author in the past, though this is the first time that his main character has been a human female. I would argue that this is an extremely feminist text, not only supportive of what it means to be a woman, but acutely understanding of it: what women go through on a daily basis, how they think, and react, and indeed, what they think and react to. Emer, though the description of the book would have readers assume her story is mainly focused on her lover, Con (Cuchulain), is a vibrantly independent, forward thinking, emotional and intelligent woman, whose life is full of pastimes and people as vibrant as she. The story is the evolution of her personal journey, a clear beginning and end exist, even if the end is merely another new beginning, a tenet of the cyclical nature of most mythos. It is a roadmap to personal fulfillment more so than anything else.

Rob: Right, so we can say this book has a lot to say about self-honesty. We don’t all get heroes’ journeys to reveal to ourselves these kind of truths. As David Duchovny explores this for his readers, how do you think he has grown as an author from Holy Cow to Bucky F*cking Dent to the author who produced this?

Eileen: While Holy Cow was mostly a circumspect philosophical fable (despite the myriad of f-bombs) and Bucky F*cking Dent was primarily focused on the relationships between fathers and sons, all three books contain the thematic base of self-discovery. All the main characters begin by thinking and believing one thing/way about themselves and the world around them and undergo realistic levels of change; none of the characters are unrecognizable by the ends of their stories, but all are wiser, more well-rounded figures, and indeed, happier too for their insights, no matter what pains they underwent to reach them. There is certainly some element of Buddhist considerations to this recipe, even if never outright stated, and the similarities between the books are few, despite some repeating themes. Each book has its own flavour, and each, I believe, grows progressively more natural in the evolution if its characters, as well as in the seamless inclusion of some of Duchovny’s more personal anecdotes (such as the reference to Emer’s anisocoria, which Duchovny also has).

Rob: The myth of Cuchulain and Emer is Irish and well-documented in Yeats’s poetry. From that we get the following tale (I looked for some guidance here, so please see the footnote for reference):

“In “The Only Jealousy of Emer” Cuchulain is rescued from death by the sacrifice of his dogged wife Emer. Shown by the trickster Bricriu an image of Cuchulain’s spirit being seduced by a woman from the Otherworld, Emer agrees to renounce his love, a costly lie that breaks a death spell.

In The Death of Cuchulain the hero achieves victory in battle but defeat at the hands of the now-aged Aoife. Emer defends him by slaying six of his enemies, but it’s too late: his head was cut off as a souvenir by the Blind Man.”[1]

Why do you feel Duchovny took so much inspiration from Yeats’s poetry and particularly those on the “Hound of Ulster” for this novel? I mean, it’s a superb idea, but why was it so perfect for him? Do you have a sense of that having finished the novel?

Eileen: The myth that supports Miss Subways is so thoroughly and modernly adapted as a skeleton for Emer’s progress as a character that it is hardly noticeable as adapted. It is there, almost in its exact original plot (again, one might reference the cyclical nature of myths, especially in Ireland) but it’s purpose is not to be the plot or the focus, but the impetus for positive change in Emer’s life. This is not Cuchulain’s story, though he also undergoes positive change as a result. The myth is the vehicle for change. On a metatextual level this also serves to underscore why myths remain important in cultures that have seemingly little time or use for them anymore, and, as already mentioned, Duchovny is all about culture. Myths, at their core, are meant to be able to be understood by anyone as they illustrate philosophically and ethically the history and nature not just of that culture but of mankind in general, just as do fables. Myths are applicable to all life, be there actual wars involved, or only the wars of the self imposed sort against man, against self, against the system. Duchovny’s book is a celebration of the adaptive nature of myth to suit the needs of the society it is meant to reflect.

Rob: Okay, here it is. Why is this a book we believe the readership of 25 Years Later will not only appreciate but really love adding to their entertainment for 2018? I love how Eileen says that it “… serves to underscore why myths remain important in cultures that have seemingly little time or use for them anymore…” As Twin Peaks fans and analysts, I think we are very used to wanting material that carries meaning, mythology, and layers of interpretation beneath its surface that somehow affects us on a personal level. In the world of reading, I suppose that’s sometimes posed as a “literature” versus “genre” distinction, but we won’t go there. You know, we are just scratching the surface as a year-old site now delving into film and television media beyond Mark Frost’s and David Lynch’s works, and I think a book like Miss Subways reminds us–of course, we came to it because of David Duchovny–that engaging writing is where it all starts, for the storytelling and in our examination of it all. And let’s not lie that David Duchovny’s name might bring some of his audience, some that may not often read, to his books. I suspect they will be happily surprised to find honest and thoughtful storytelling in this book as well as characters that will stay with them well after they finish it. And then maybe that leads to Yeats and back to David’s career and so on, but as for us at 25 Years Later, at least the two of us, we’re saying go, go now, go to your local bookstore on May 1st, and buy this book!


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[1] Bommer, Lawrence. “Between the Door and the Sea: The Story of Yeats’ Cuchulain” (Chicago: Chicago Reader, Arts & Culture, September 09, 1993), Accessed 04/17/2018, https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/between-the-door-and-the-sea-the-story-of-yeats-cuchulain/Content?oid=882717

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