Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Leaping into the Unknown

I hope your 2012 is off to a good start. My own has been jogging along, although some of my New Year's resolutions will require more attention. Being prompt and improving my cooking for example. Other resolutions are proving easier to keep. One is to be more daring in my book choices by reading more books set in foreign places and trying new authors. Sometimes it pays to leap into the unknown.

This was true when I read Edna Mazya's Love Burns. When the narrator, 48-year-old Israeli astrophysicist Ilan Ben Nathan, arrives home unexpectedly early from work and wife Naomi isn't there, he is frantic. His mother isn't sympathetic. "A man who worries should live alone and not with a twenty-five-year-old lollipop," she snaps before hanging up the phone. But how can Ilan not worry when his life revolves around Naomi? Naomi's behavior when she gets home inflames his suspicions and over the next few days he abandons his work at the Technion [Israel's Institute of Technology] to follow her yellow Beetle around Haifa. It doesn't take long to discover that she is having an affair. Her lover is a recent immigrant from Russia who resembles Nick Nolte. Ilan resolves to let the affair burn itself out without letting on that he knows about it but, as some of us know, not all resolutions are easily kept.

I don't want to say more about the plot. This literary book, which begins with a neurotic man's obsessive fretting, turns into a thriller so farcical I had to repeatedly put it down to laugh.

First-time novelist Mazya is an award-winning playwright. I can visualize Love Burns on the screen and its plot reads like a group writing project undertaken by Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers. In fact, Tarantino's movie Pulp Fiction sparks an argument about reality in cinema at a party thrown by the Nathans. This book appeals to the intellect even during its moments of slapstick. It mocks everything in sight but it also offers keen observations about human character and relationships and Israeli society. Since the protagonist is an astrophysicist, it also contains some nice explanations about the nature of stars and constellations.

The description of the setting and the plot, which whizzes all over Haifa, give the reader a sense of the city. Mazya's characters are very eccentric but believable. One of Ilan's childhood friends, Anton, is now a detective in the Criminal Investigations Department. He is "short and sturdy, with the patience of a Bedouin" and his presence in Ilan's narrative keeps the tension rising. Ilan's mother, a unique fictional character, is the only one Ilan willingly allows to see behind his mask of competence and he instinctively turns to her when he is in trouble. She is insightful and very unsentimental. She is also weary and irritated by Ilan's neurotic behavior and his weakness.

Some readers will be put off Ilan as well. He is obsessional and self-absorbed and he doesn't so much experience reality as experience himself experiencing it. His narration has a tendency to drone on and he never stops to catch his breath or to begin a new paragraph, although his tale is broken into chapters.

Love Burns isn't for everyone. It isn't for a reader who wants a sparse narrative attached to a linear plot. It is for one who appreciates literary but lively writing and a sly plot with twists one doesn't expect. It has a protagonist who muses about reality while giving himself up to his fate. I not only laughed out loud, I cringed in pleasurable suspense. I highly recommend this unusual book to readers who enjoy sardonic humor and writers such as Robert Barnard, Lenny Kleinfeld, Kingsley Amis, Pete Dexter and Patrick McGinley. A reader doesn't come across a farcical literary thriller every day. I'm glad I kept one resolution because this is a gem.

1 comment:

  1. Della,

    I will make a resolution to read this book as well. It sounds like a trip.