The latest offering from conceptual artist, writer, and performer Rosenthal (Soul & Psyche, 1998, etc.) is a satirical, fantastical, and philosophical novel, illustrated with surreal photographs.
Readers begin the story with Jack Rubin, a messianic figure who has unbelievable charisma, even as a graduate student. But he’s also at least mildly schizophrenic (hearing “The Voice of the Petty Accuser”) and cares much more for his ideas and ideals than for real people. He aims to usher in a perfect world or die trying. The story then adds in his girlfriend, Beatrice Stregasanta Madregiore, a blind African-American conceptual artist (specializing in “Avant-Conceptualism…in large scale public projects and theatrical events”) with fiercely devoted students. She eventually marries Jack off to one of those students, the seriously disturbed Caroline Klein. Over the course of the story, set from 1968 to 1985, Jack and Caroline marry and beget a daughter, Jewel Marie Rubin; Jack becomes world-renowned and eventually the United Nations’ secretary-general; and Caroline, high and hysterical most of the time, has a serious car accident, scarring Jewel horribly (and Jack urges against her getting plastic surgery). Beatrice, Jewel’s godmother, takes Jewel to Rome, her spiritual retreat, and contemplates seducing her. Also in Rome, there’s Toto, a local cab driver, schemer, kidnapper, and autograph hound who picks up the two women before Beatrice experiences an apparent miracle. Later, Jack, flying into the same city, faces a tragedy of his own in the DaVinci Airport. These are the major pivot points for the plot, and Rosenthal, a very clever writer, molds it all into an addictive story. Her chapters are mostly short with quirky titles (such as “Caroline Parks Car and Walks Back Alone”), and they often act as stand-alone narrative disquisitions. We see the world sometimes through Jack’s eyes, sometimes through Caroline’s, Beatrice’s, or Toto’s, and most rivetingly, through Jewel’s. Caroline behaves monstrously to poor Jewel, but readers will find that they can’t take their eyes away. They’ll also sometimes wonder what’s real and what’s not—and exactly what kind of magic might be at work.
A celebration of the dysfunctional that will keep readers turning pages.