The Free World by David Bezmozgis

bezmozgis-cover-the-free-worldAs a child on his way to a new home in Canada, David Bezmozgis himself went the way of the fictitious characters in this novel, The Free World (FSG, 356 pages). The book is set in 1978, and mention is frequently made of what is going on in the world at the time of the action. For example, “in Beirut, the Syrians were shelling the Christians, and Israel was massing troops on its northern border.” Meanwhile, “Begin was in America meeting with Carter and the Egyptian Sadat.” Continue reading

The Pilgrim of Love: a ludibrium by Charles Davis


“I was pleased to discover in myself an uncanny knack for interpreting the hermetic language of alchemy, as if my book learning had been but a preparation for decrypting enigmatic texts, reading meaning into that which, on the surface, seemed meaningless.”

So says the unnamed narrator of Charles Davis’ The Pilgrim of Love: a ludibrium, an obsessively researched and elaborately plotted parody of an historical romance. (Parody, as I understand the term, is best written by an author who actually loves his target, but who can put some ironic distance between himself and his subject.) The story is set in the abbey of the legendary Mont Michel in 1621, when the absence of roadway access meant visiting pilgrims had to make their way around quicksand between dangerously unpredictable tides. The landscape always plays an important and often symbolic role in Davis’ novels. The pilgrims must interpret the patterns in the sand to avoid sinking in the lise. Continue reading

The Master of Petersburg by J.M. Coetzee

TheMasterOfPetersburgCoetzee’s novel of Dostoevsky (The Master of Petersburg, Penguin Books, 250 pages) is a mysterious portrait of the artist surrounding his The Possessed. Suppose a preliminary to Dostoevsky’s demons story could extend it via a narrative featuring the great author himself. Coetzee’s portrayal is that novel. Dostoevsky becomes a half-fiction in this role, somewhat real and somewhat false. Does that matter? It’s not easy to answer. As protagonist-novelist, Dostoevsky’s most important function for Coetzee might be as guide and exemplar, somewhat disheveled and brooding into our own age. Continue reading

Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes

indexJulian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot (Picador 2002, 190 pages) is the story of one man’s quest, his “project” to find the writer outside his writings, despite Flaubert’s insistence that the books should be enough, the writer should disappear and be left alone. Geoffrey Braithwaite, this amusing novel’s British protagonist, is a medical doctor about sixty. He pursues museums, letters, literary works, criticism, and Flaubert the person in a long quest as unofficial biographer and tireless seeker. Continue reading

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

With all books, there is a difference between author and narrator. Sometimes the difference is slight, sometimes great. Omniscient narrators tend to reflect the author’s stance about the story more than, say, first-person narrators, which often strike poses very unlike the authors’, excepting the case of confessional “fiction” (which is not actually fictional). At first I thought the narrator of Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Modern Library, 384 pages) spoke without irony, without distance being injected between his voice and the author’s feelings about the story. As I read on, I felt more and more an ironic distance between McCarthy and the narrator. I felt as if McCarthy were telling me to resist this narrative for its excesses, its hyperbole and its superstition and fatalism. Continue reading

Cotton by Christopher Wilson

The title character of Christopher Wilson’s second novel, Cotton (Little, Brown, 320 pages) begins life as a blonde, white, blue-eyed boy born of a black mother. Lee Cotton’s problems are compounded by another oddity, his ability to hear the thoughts of both the living and the dead. If that were not enough, Lee discovers that his life holds surprising, even shocking, turns that ensure he will never fit in anywhere. First he survives a brutal, racially motivated assault that leaves him a John Doe, assumed to be white, in a neurological ward, and then, through a series of events, he undergoes major transformations that always Continue reading