Rachel Nagelberg / The Fifth Wall

Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 7:30pm

In The Fifth Wall, a debut novel by Rachel Nagelberg, conceptual artist Sheila B. Ackerman heeds a mysterious urge to return to her estranged family home and arrives at the exact moment of her mother’s suicide. In an attempt to cope with and understand her own self destructive tendencies, Sheila plants a camera on the lawn outside the house to film 24/7 while workers deconstruct the physical object that encases so many of her memories.


Meanwhile, as she begins to experience frequent blackouts, she finds herself hunting a robot drone through the San Francisco MOMA with a baseball bat, part of a provocative, technological show, The Last Art, and resuming a violent affair with her college professor. With a backdrop of post-9/11 San Francisco, Sheila navigates the social-media-obsessed, draught-ridden landscape of her life, exploring the frail line between the human impulse to control everything that takes place around us and the futility of excessive effort to do so.


The Fifth Wall allows readers to explore from a safe distance the recesses of their own minds, leaving the haunting feeling of depths that yet remain unknown.


Joining Rachel are Nina Schuyler and Mary Burger. Please join us to celebrate this wonderful book!




Set into motion by an inexplicable, traumatic and violent real-life event, Rachel Nagelberg’s brilliant first novel begins at the limits of contemporary art, as it attempts to reflect the ungraspable present. Born in 1984 into a familiarly frayed American family, her protagonist Sheila B. Ackerman, a former art student, is neither especially likable or unlikeable: that is, she’s incredibly real. A close artistic cousin to Joni Murphy’s Double Teenage and Natasha Stagg’s Surveys, The Fifth Wall is a new kind of novel. Female and philosophical, emotion flows through the book across a dense and familiarly incomprehensible web of information, from satellite selfies to awkward sex to internet beheadings and shamanic tourism in the third world. Nagelberg's engrossing narration is littered with stunning perception: We look into the distance to be able to see what’s right in front of us. She writes without affect, and with unselfconscious acuity. That is, she writes really well. – Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick



Nagelberg has a true gift, able to write gorgeously on the line level with unctuous images. And simultaneously, there's a readable page-turner here. Most of us are lucky to do one of those, which is a testament to the singular talent. This book cascades beauty and meaning and truth. – Joshua Mohr, author of All This Life and Termite Parade, a New York Times Editor’s Choice pick



The Fifth Wall crackles with braininess and sex. It's hallucinatory and interactive and funny and sad and it has something incandescent to show you. – Stephen Beachy, author of The Whistling Song and Distortion, and professor at the University of San Francisco





Rachel Nagelberg is an American novelist, poet, and conceptual artist living in Los Angeles. The Fifth Wall is her debut novel.




Nina Schuyler is the author of the award-winning novel, The TranslatorThe Translator won the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Award and was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Writing Prize. It received a starred review from Booklist and Shelf Awareness and was named a 100 Recommended Book by the San Francisco Chronicle. Her first novel, The Painting, was nominated for the Northern California Book Award and was named a "Year's Finest Best Book" by the San Francisco Chronicle and a "fearless debut" by MSNBC. She teaches creative writing at the University of San Francisco.


Mary Burger is a writer, artist, and sometime landscape historian living in Oakland. Her writing explores place and placelessness as material and psychological states. Her visual work uses biomorphic and geometric patterns in conversation with natural and cultural adaptations. Mary’s books include Then Go On (2012, selected prose), A Partial Handbook for Navigators (2008, writings on place), Sonny (2005, novella on the Manhattan project), Thin Straw That I Suck Life Through (2000, serial poem on displacement), and Bleeding Optimist (1995, a fractious suspense narrative).




RSVP appreciated but not required. If you cannot attend the event, but would like to request a signed copy of The Fifth Wall, please order below and put your request in the comments field. 

The Fifth Wall Cover Image
ISBN: 9781574232288
Availability: Out of Stock - Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Black Sparrow Press - May 15th, 2017