"A funny, affecting novel about fragmented lives that slip the leash."– Kirkus Reviews
In Perlstein’s (Slick!, 2011) winsome fable, a protective dog and the therapeutic effects of stand-up comedy help heal a wounded family.
Abbie Greenbaum is a 25-year-old slacker in San Francisco who coasts through a life centered on desultory dog-walking gigs and a garage band. He still lives with his dad, Morty, an American studies professor who specializes in deep ruminations on TV comedy. Morty’s English bulldog, Brutus, who’s chief among Abbie’s canine charges, narrates their story with a stately aplomb befitting his advanced age and arthritic hips. Brutus so identifies with his masters that he considers himself a fellow Jew; in his own mind, he’s adopted the name Baruch and presides benignly over Morty’s frequent observances of Jewish memorial rituals. There’s a lot for Morty to mourn, as his daughter, Sara, and wife, Lenore, died years ago—a tragedy that overshadows his strained relationship with Abbie. Another girl named Sarah, a motor-mouthed 10-year-old with Down syndrome, bounces into Abbie’s dog-walking routine along with her mother, Rivka, a half-Jewish, half-Chinese professional stand-up comic. Over the course of the story, Abbie gets embroiled in a friend’s half-baked drug-dealing scheme, Morty comes down with lung cancer, and both become infatuated with Rivka, who prods Morty through her stand-up comedy class. Perlstein’s novel has some twee conceits that might have overwhelmed it, particularly the plummy, stentorian narrative voice of Brutus, who sounds like Henry James scoping out a nightclub (“Understanding my role as Abbie’s wingman—and aware of the attraction that an English Bulldog of my stature maintains for women of all ages—I gazed instead into the young Latina’s eyes as might Rudolph Valentino in the era of silent films”). Fortunately, the author’s gift for sharp, empathetic human characterizations rescues the proceedings. He steeps the story in well-observed renditions of West Coast Jewish culture, from homey dinner routines to the theory and practice of stand-up comedy, in which kvetching is the wellspring of artistic revelation. Perlstein offsets the shtick with psychological depth and nuance, keeping it charming throughout.
A funny, affecting novel about fragmented lives that slip the leash.
As a deadlocked election grips the fictional sultanate of Moq’tar, no issue is safe from Perlstein’s (God’s Others, 2010, etc.) wit as he lampoons politics in the Gulf.
Bobby Gatling, a retired U.S. soldier now employed by a private security firm, is on assignment in Moq’tar. While Bobby’s been training security forces, the aging sultan has allowed his favorite son, Yusuf, to run the country. Western-educated with an MBA from Berkeley, Yusuf has been hard at work, in the capitalist fashion, transforming Moq’tar into “Moq’tar, Inc.” And his sister, the alluring Zoraya, has been with him every step of the way. But everything gets complicated quickly when it turns out that the succession isn’t as certain as Yusuf (and America) thought. Between a drunken U.S. ambassador, a cultural affairs officer with a penchant for cinema, and Yusuf’s playboy-turned-traditionalist older brother, Bobby has his work cut out for him. Stuck in the middle, he’s forced to balance his duties, his loyalties and his conscience as he navigates the dangers of a Middle-Eastern election rife with double-dealing and assassination attempts. The setting works brilliantly for Perlstein to show how ridiculously volatile the region can be, as he takes well-aimed shots at capitalism gone too far, gulf politics, forced democracy and anti-Semitism (to name just a few). It’s satire at its finest—laughing until the sobering moment of realization that the events in Moq’tar aren’t as fictional as you’d hope. To his credit, Perlstein never crosses the line into offensiveness, despite the numerous hot topics and cultures in his sights. And although he tends to dump characterization on the reader, that’s hardly a bother since each one is compelling. Best of all, the novel isn’t written just for scholars of the region; the plot is packed full of car chases and plot twists that keep the tension high and the pace fast. Those looking for subtle humor will find plenty, but those interested in action and intrigue alone won’t be disappointed either.
What else is there to say? It’s slick.
In Perlstein’s (Flight of the Spumonis, 2015, etc.) latest novel, a frumpy, overwrought, 30-something art curator is transformed, as if by magic, into the handsome man that he always wanted to be.
The first few chapters of this book offer a glimpse into the mind of the titular Adonis, who’s supremely unhappy with his life. He mopes in his tiny studio apartment, where his depression and anxiety blur fantasy and reality. One lonely night, for example, he imagines that the pigeons on his windowsill are mocking him. But is he imagining this? The text leaves readers wondering. When Adonis awakens one day as a taller, leaner, more masculine version of himself—with no hint as to how the change happened—he suddenly gets positive attention from women, co-workers, and even strangers. His new plight is that he now feels as disconnected from his physical self as he does from people around him, except for one homeless woman named Anna. As an art-forgery scandal threatens to overtake the museum where he works, Adonis fears that tragedy has befallen Anna, and his world implodes. Readers will be left with some unanswered questions after the story ends. Indeed, they’ll face an odd plight of their own as they try to untangle this unusual novel that’s part fantasy, part parable. Perlstein’s quirky prose has Adonis seeing the world through a series of elaborate similes. His mother and brother trample obstacles in life, for instance, “like bull elephants in heat,” and a woman emerges from a car “like an old-time striptease dancer popping up out of a giant birthday cake.” The first few chapters of the book so thoroughly immerse readers in Adonis’ pain and linguistic oddities, in fact, that they’re discomforting to read. There are occasional typographical errors in the text, however, and the frequent repetition of characters’ full names, particularly during a scene at an office staff meeting, may also pull readers out of the story.
A brain-twisting but often memorable tale.