Gerald Lerner, fictional author of this novel, begins by telling how he began his research on Soviet espionage in America by placing a newspaper ad beginning, "IF YOU DID IT, OR KNEW SOMEONE WHO DID. . ." The double-entendre in "doing it" is an apt lead-in to a tale that treats American Communism as an infatuation, a coming-of-age ritual, a tragic passion, and as the setup for a harrowing series of betrayals. Intermittently unsympathetic Lerner's heroes Solly and Dolly Rubell, electrocuted for espionage in 1954, are obviously modeled on the Rosenbergs, but instead of treating their story with pathos and dignity, as E.L. Doctorow does in The Book of Daniel, Lerner—or rather Evanier, the gifted author of The One-Star Jew (1983)—dissolves his narrative in an explosion of anecdotes—wildly, sometimes hilariously inappropriate to the Rubells' story but deeply revealing of the milieu—F.B.I. transcripts, informal testimony from every possible point of view, and unsettling humor. We get to hear the life story of Sammy Kuznekov, the Spanish Civil War vet who writes the Rubells in prison, urging them to turn against Stalinism; Sid Smorg, the junior spy who breaks down on his arrest and insists, "Punish me and punish me well"; Antonio Carelli, a Young Rebel who, after serving his time in a US jail, gets deported to the Soviet motherland and gets to suffer at the hands of the regime he's given his life for; and Manya Puffnick, the aging, dotty all-purpose radical who testifies for the Rubells. Meantime, flashbacks show Solly and Dolly as a pair of quintessentially American rubes whose letters ("You ring my bell with your passionate utterances of unity with the people") reveal them as nobly, hopelessly out past their depth. Irreverent, unflinching, and almost disgracefully entertaining.
Read full book review >