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Thursday, 29 May 2014


This is a bizarre book.

It is hard to really know what to think or say about it, but it probably helps to just give an outline of the plot.

The narrator and protagonist is Harry Silver, an academic who lives in New York State. The book tells the story of twelve months in Harry's life, from one Thanksgiving to the next.

In the space of a short number of days Harry's life is turned upside down. His brother, George, kills his wife and is in turn incarcerated, so Harry is left as guardian of his niece and nephew. He moves into his brother's house when his own wife, Claire, divorces him.

From there, we get a succession of eccentric characters, a lot of old, senile people coming and going in the narrative, and apparently unconnected and random events happening every second page.

Some of these events are disturbing, like his niece's female teacher engaging in a semi-sexual relationship with the girl. Many are apparently purposely random, like when Harry's nephew Nate decides to have his bar mitzvah in a little village in South Africa. Others are seemingly pointlessly bizarre, like the frankly stupid experimental "wilderness" prison that Harry's brother is sent to instead of a normal jail.

That said, the narrative is relentless, it draws you in and, once you have accepted that there is nothing here that makes a lot of sense, it becomes compelling, in a weird sort of way.

Harry, again for reasons not explained very well, is a Nixon scholar, and has an unusual obsession with the ex-president. Part of his journey is in coming to terms with his life's work, and the book that he has been writing on Nixon for fifteen years.

Along the way, as well as his niece and nephew, Harry gathers in a strange coterie of strays and orphans. He somehow ends up taking care of the elderly parents of a girl he has a brief relationship with. He also adopts the son of a couple that his brother killed in a car crash.

There is redemption, of sorts towards the end. Harry finally discovers a purpose for his life in looking after the three children, two pets and two elderly people that he has picked up along the way. He is fulfilled by the connection that he forms with these people, and his life is given meaning by their need of him.

Yet it is difficult to take the story seriously in many places, it reads like the writer is simply making things up as she goes along, chancing her arm with one strange plot point after another.

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