An eccentric outsider is baffled by contemporary Manhattan in this engrossing second novel by Pelzman (Troika, 2014).
Robert Walser is a struggling writer whose genteel ways suit a bygone age. He lives on the Upper West Side, supported by a dwindling inheritance, clinging to the hope that his work will be published. Besides his agent, Belinda St. Clair, “a sour but persistent old woman,” Walser has only one other important contact—Rose—a woman with whom he has exchanged letters but never met. The novel’s opening finds the protagonist in high spirits, having received two important messages—the first from Belinda informing him that his short story is being considered by a literary journal, the second from Rose, announcing her imminent arrival in New York. The storyline follows Walser on his walk from his 72nd Street apartment to the Port Authority, where Rose will alight a bus from Philadelphia. Sadly, Rose fails to show, and Walser’s heart sinks as he realizes that he must continue to navigate the unforgiving city alone. Meanwhile, he discovers that a sculpture is being erected near his apartment that embodies all he despises about contemporary city life. Pelzman’s second novel brims with intrigue. Does the enigmatic Rose exist? What is the significance of the sculpture titled: “#dunamisto”? Pelzman’s reveal is tantalizing and richly detailed. Many of the scenes that define Walser’s character will live on in the memory. One such is when he rides the subway and confronts a young man for failing to give up his seat to the elderly: “I await a humane response, but instead he shrugs his shoulders, returns the headphones to his ears and taps away at the screen of his phone as if he exists on a planet of one.” Walser’s old-fashioned set of values—which may appear priggish but are founded on human decency—cause him to be looked upon as potentially insane. This is acutely observant, timely writing that confronts the ever-heightening sense of disconnection and self-absorption extant in city life. A minor criticism: The narrative could be distilled from novel length into an even more intense short story. Walser’s jury duty, for instance; although amusing, it feels somewhat extraneous. Still, this is another entrancing, deeply memorable offering from Pelzman.
Devilishly sharp social commentary.