Middle-aged academic Andrew Cohen has it all; his girlfriend is half his age, his academic reputations is great, he has flawless style. He and his ex get along; he has a good relationship with his daughters; his students love him; his girlfriend asks nothing of him. He’s got everything designed and choreographed. Everything he has is the best quality. No human frailty stirs the still surface of his life.
Until it does.
Little things start going wrong. He gets ill. He gets dirty. He develops a paunch. His girlfriend and ex both get cranky. The article he is writing just won’t gel, no matter how many tries he makes at it. He even takes delivery of a nine pound piece of tenderloin that looks like an uncircumcised penis and he sees as some albatross he can’t get rid of. He starts to have powerful visions that leave him shaken to the core. The surface of his life- and he’s all surface, he’s not real with anyone- is not just rippled but shattered.
It’s a story about a midlife crisis. It’s also a story about academic life. But is it a story about mystical visions, as the sections between chapters (pseudo Talmudic pages) hint at (he is a Cohen, after all, and the visions have a priest possibly making a terrible mistake during a ritual), or is he having a nervous breakdown or even a psychotic break? Whatever it is, it takes a hard toll on him, and help is a long time coming. The isolation of modern people is another theme in the book.
The writing is very nice, but the book is slow going. I really couldn’t work up much care for Andrew, although I did find myself compelled to keep reading to find out what the devil was happening to him. The other characters have no depth to them at all; we never see them except in relation to Andrew. It’s like they just stop existing when not in contact with him. It’s an odd book; I didn’t particularly enjoy it while I was reading, but in the end I *did* feel it was good, as I think about it and tease bits of it out from the mass of prose. It’s grown on me. Four stars out of five.
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