Like a Complete Unknown
“Guard’s fourth book and first novel, “Like a Complete Unknown,” follows Katya, a runaway teen with a dream of becoming an artist, and Dr. Lewis, a physician who wants to help her. Guard brings these seemingly disparate characters together to explore friendship, with a satisfying redemption arc that makes the story unforgettable. While at Kenyon, Guard received the John Crowe Ransom Poetry Prize, so it’s no surprise that even her prose is filled with artful, poetic language that proves she’s expert in both crafts.”
~Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin, Summer 2022
“A beautifully written debut novel with rich, complex characters bound by their tumultuous personal histories and the volatile political landscape of the late 1960’s. Against the grit and beauty of counterculture Chicago, we are allowed to love these flawed, isolated people, and to feel joy as they create renewed lives.” — Meredith Hall, author of Beneficence
“Like a Complete Unknown tells the story of a pregnant runaway and a widowed doctor whose lives are changed by a brief encounter. Guard paints a compelling and clear-eyed portrait of Chicago during the Vietnam War. She layers the strained idealism of the free love generation atop its ugly underbelly with raw honesty. Although set in the sixties, the novel speaks intimately of our own complex social moment.” —Mary Volmer, author of Reliance, Illinois
“Anara Guard writes with heart and power, and hers is a confident, moving novel. You will never think of Chicago in the same way again, or of what it feels like to be a desperate runaway teenager. Her remarkable characters face daunting challenges, realistically and freshly depicted against a backdrop of convulsive social change and pressing moral dilemmas. This book is an invaluable time capsule of the Sixties—Viet Nam, the demonstrations, the draft, the counter culture, Tarot cards, collectivism, the songs, the tastes and smells and colors of an era that altered the face of America. And yet, it is much more than that. Her novel also wondrously dramatizes the timelessness of new families, new lives, new starts, and new stories, such as the unforgettable Like a Complete Unknown.” —Joseph diPrisco, author of The Good Family Fitzgerald and chair of The New Literary Project
“In her impressive debut novel Like a Complete Unknown, Anara Guard brings Chicago during the 1960’s, when emerging feminism and political upheaval ruled the day, into sharp focus. With this as a cultural backdrop, an unlikely encounter between a widowed doctor who has given up on life and a teen-aged girl who has run away from home to find a life sets a propulsive plot in motion. Guard writes with lyrical prose, bringing her characters fully alive in this wonderfully nuanced novel. It is a remarkable story of persistence, self-discovery and redemption.” —Marcia Butler, author of Oslo, Maine
“Anara Guard’s novel skillfully weaves the music and cultural touchstones of the sixties into a compelling story of a lonely doctor and a naive runaway girl, searching for family and for self. Guard’s prose is lyrical and her characters are realistic and fully formed in this close observation of Chicago during the Vietnam War, a time when women had few choices over their bodies or their lives.” —Mary Camarillo, author of The Lockhart Women
“Your book comprises so many diverse splendors. It is at once autobiographical, a kind of bildungsroman; an historical and geographical documentation; a journey through a psychosocial landscape of a particular place and time; a description of outer and inner worlds richly and sometimes amazingly brought to the page; and an exploration of the seductiveness of freedom, with the hopes and dangers thereof, decisions taken in innocence but also with recklessness, the headiness of choice and unavoidable consequence….and more. Stunningly observed. A deeply felt, intimately and powerfully inhabited story, which felt almost like a personal letter.” —Ronne Hartfield, author of Another Way Home
I cannot think of the words needed to tell you how much I LOVED this book. I hated to finish it because I fell in love with Katya, Huck and Robert and yes, Louise too. I hadn’t read a novel that so moved me in quite a while. I’m recommending it to all my friends. Your chapter titles were so much fun and such a trip down memory lane. ~Lois F.
I just read your book last weekend and congratulate you on the engaging story, skillful writing, and period authenticity. I got a kick out of reading some late 60’s phrases I had forgotten about. You managed to weave in a lot of the social issues of the times, and here we are again with the possible reversal of Roe v Wade. Grrrr….Read the book, people! I will recommend it to friends and to my sister-in-law for her book club. ~Helen
I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve read that I desperately did not want to end, and that left me in a few tears – the good kind – when they did. Yours is one of them. The time, place and especially the characters are so very well drawn. I felt immersed into the setting and deeply cared about Katya and Robert. Finishing the novel the day after the SCOTUS decision certainly lent extra poignance, to say the least, but the whole thing stands on its own terms, and then some. Lots of interesting, complex and economically drawn characters, too. So many people to love (and hate) in this book. It’s so rich. The theme of volition and personal power — over our body, over our identity and passions, and more — is timeless, but oh so very timely. Just some of what’s been in my mind after reading it. Bravo. This is absolutely first-rate. ~Eric H.
Started your book yesterday. Can’t put it down. Love it. You got talent, girl. So close to home, everything in the book. Can taste the rust of the city…. I bet it would make a great movie, it’s so well paced. ~Debi E.
I stopped ALL other activities to finish your wonderful novel! Such a thrilling read, so believable and so masterfully woven. I wanted to underline my favorite passages but I had to turn to the next page before I could reach for a pen. ~Nina G.
Drawn right in and read it in a day. What a wonderful novel of those compelling times. Great characters, too. I really liked Huck. ~Lisa K.
This is one fine book of growing up, growing older, and growing wise in the vivid, tumultuous, riotous world of the 1960s when demonstrations and marches were daily events, when charismatic leaders could be compassionate or cold, when the young and the innocent could be rejected by their parents or marched off to war, and when teenagers, forced into adulthood by the intensity of the times, felt both the yearning to be free and the need to be rescued. This compelling story flows like an inspirational song pulling the reader in because we care about the characters. We have known people like them; we may have been them. ~John F., Amazon review
Like a Complete Unknown is a fine novel, written in prose, but with the cadence, word selection, and sentence structure of poetry. It is set during the years of the Vietnam War with all the ugliness that entails, but out of the story of characters from two disparate generations searching for each other comes the sprouting of something beautiful within themselves. The novel has lessons for our times, but is not a didactic painting, rather it has the sublimity of an Old Master. ~Ian W., Amazon review
I loved the chapter headings with song lyrics from some of the great hits of my generation. (Took me back to my days as a deejay on an oldies radio station!) It was also fun to see the references to WXRT and other familiar Chicago-area “shout-outs” in the novel. And of course as former teenage girls ourselves, I think we can all relate to many of Katya’s emotions and experiences. ~Sasha
I finished reading your novel yesterday and want to tell you how much I enjoyed it. It brought back many memories of my time in Chicago in the 60’s, working in public health clinics with Polish immigrants among others. I liked your empathic, authentic depiction of Katya. While I cringed at many of her early decisions, I thought that in the end, she resolved her problems well and in sync with the times. Thanks for the good read. ~Jane H.
I thoroughly enjoyed your novel. I found myself truly caring about the characters and what would become of them. For that reason, I hope you have hopes of a future novel including these characters. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. ~Cherry
I just finished reading your book, and it was such an interesting read. The characters were so well developed. I felt like I knew them as well as one could, given all the extenuating circumstances. Chicago was presented differently from how I know it, which made this even more interesting. I found myself caring about all the characters except Harlow. But then, that was to be expected. The gypsies were a particularly quirky and lovable group. ~Sally W.
Your depiction of Chicago and the Chicago ‘lingo’ was so good, the city became a character itself. You included so much of the political and social turmoil of the time but rendered it so seamlessly that it’s a reminder of how the chaos of the present mirrors back to that time. So many of the same issues (abortion, war, homelessness, social & political chaos, alternative ways of being) continue to this very day. Congrats on a wonderful bildungsroman & a beautiful rendition of those times. ~Tim O
What a fantastic writer! I’m loving this story, so evocative of Chicago. Yes, the Chicago Public Library is a beautiful, holy place. I had forgotten until I saw it again on the page. I’m looking forward to continuing to read. ~Margaret E.
Gracefully written and a smooth read. And the timing is amazing given what’s happening with SCOTUS right now! ~Ying
I’ve wanted to tell you, but have been shy about seeming like too much of a fan-girl, how much I enjoyed Like a Complete Unknown. In the first 3 pages, in particular, I found a piece of myself watching my own daughter, mourning the same loss of the child she was. I appreciate reading it articulated so beautifully. ~Andi B.
A remarkable double-layered journey of self-discovery in an era in many ways starkly parallel to our own. Masterful character development and a detailed tapestry of people, places, and historical detail make for a compelling, memorable novel. ~Gini G., Goodreads review
An excellent piece of fiction set in the late 1960s Chicago, cleverly using snippets of song lyrics of the time to set the tone of each chapter. I had trouble putting the book down as each chapter revealed both new challenges to overcome and amazing resilience just one step away from disaster. It is a thought-provoking book that begs for discussion. I can’t wait for the next novel from this talented writer, though I want to savor this one a while longer. –Carol R., Amazon review
A very moving conclusion and a wonderful cast of characters. I loved seeing Chicago in it and count myself as lucky to have lived there so I could place the scenes… And how timely it ss, as well as the other political issues–war and racism in particular. I appreciated the immigrant experience of Poles and the information about the stockyards. I wonder if you were thinking if this would make a good screenplay as you wrote it? I do, for the physical and historical settings, the characters, the drama and the conclusion, with a prologue/flashback built in. ~Roger