Nobody will ever accuse Canadian writer Cooper of timidity. A Frankenstein machine, psychic possession, the Holocaust, and mental illness are just some of the elements in his first novel—all about guilt, memory, and the male as sexual predator. The place: Toronto, a city governed by ``propriety,'' where wildness has been confined to the ravines. The main players: Katie and Izzy. Katie is a virgin, sweet, trusting; her expensive home juts out above a ravine. Izzy Darlow is the middle of three brothers. Older brother Aaron takes after their father, a successful developer downplaying his Jewish heritage. Aaron dreams the future; he is building a resurrection machine. Younger brother Josh, a free spirit, celebrates the past. Izzy is the reader. When he learns about the Holocaust at age 12, he tries to destroy Aaron's machine; this is the novel's center. In the ensuing chaos, Izzy is possessed; Katie is violated and rendered mute; Izzy turns delinquent and causes the deaths of Josh and their grandfather. Three years later Izzy meets Katie in a mental hospital; the two amnesiacs move from trust to urgent coupling and then to betrayal when Izzy leaves her. It sounds preposterous, summarized, but plot is only one consideration in a novel that is structurally complex (there's a narrator who has his own problems with women and memory), thematically wide-ranging (Freud, architecture, the corruption of the academy), more concerned with emotional states than traditional characters, and more reminiscent of, say, Thomas's White Hotel than Hart's Damage. Cooper's supple intelligence and crisp prose sustain the novel and succeed in distracting us from its hokey heart until, in its final section, it becomes a listless raking of the embers. A beguiling if ultimately disappointing debut from a strong new talent.
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