EUROPEAN SON by Barry Stewart Levy


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Levy debuts with an elegiac novella featuring a troubled young narrator on a dangerous journey to satisfy his needs for control and sexual vengeance.

In 1989, as the story begins, the unnamed narrator turns 27. But far from celebrating the event, he becomes increasingly alienated from those closest to him. He pitches himself from a leafy suburb of New Haven, Conn., onto continental Europe, beginning in London and Amsterdam, then moving on to the French Riviera, sidling among the couples enjoying romantic liaisons sur la plage. But the narrator isn’t interested in romance, at least not with any one person. He’s obsessed with triangulation and always in the most oblique form. Consigned to an orphanage at age 7 after the simultaneous deaths of both parents, he was finally adopted at 14 by older parents with a teenage daughter, Ann. His sense of disjunction was exacerbated by Ann’s inappropriate interest in him and by an early realization of his same-sex attraction. Ann’s impact on him and her ability to manipulate him is at the heart of the novella. The action in Nice, plaited with flashbacks and stand-alone poems, is elliptical and intense. Like Patricia Highsmith’s infamous Ripley, the narrator insinuates himself into situations and relationships, becoming both an object of desire and revulsion. There’s an air of mystery surrounding the events rather than any real mysteries. The book’s brevity leaves little time for suspense to linger; most questions are answered within a few pages. The narrative refers directly to some weighty and controversial works of art such as Pier Pasolini’s films Teorema and Porcile and Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water. Their recurrent themes of handsome interlopers wreaking havoc on couples and of erotic acts tinged with violence appear throughout the novella. The author’s arcane knowledge of midcentury film often misses the mark, as the allusions are not readily evident and add little to the effort. Levy’s poetry is generally successful, and he demonstrates lyrical talent, with occasional off notes, such as “a dream of Poe-etic justice.” Not a coming-out story or solely about sexual attraction between individuals, the book’s conclusions are unnerving as are many of the scenes portrayed.

Levy’s laconic style is often very effective in this ambitious, chilling tale of psychopathology and exploitation.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1478104988
Page count: 158pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2013


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