Taylor’s second novel (Tales Out of School, 1995) is an inconsequential story, with considerable pretensions, about a brainy gay Jewish astronomy student, his brainy best friends (twins) and their super-brainy parents.
Gabriel Geismar is a mama’s boy with an overbearing father, a rabbi in New Orleans. Gabriel loves numbers, especially as they relate to the cosmos; his other love is male bodies, which he satisfies by visiting a bathhouse. Deliverance from the rabbi comes in 1970, when he wins a scholarship to Swarthmore, outside Philadelphia, and meets Marghie and Danny Hundert, fraternal twins, who both fall in love with him; he reciprocates Danny’s love, while Marghie becomes his big sister. The movie buff (Marghie) and the pacifist (Danny) are the children of Gregor Hundert, the Nobel Prize–winning physicist who, along with other Hungarian Jews, developed the atom bomb at Los Alamos. Gabriel is in seventh heaven when the courtly, old-world parents take a shine to him: These, surely, are his rightful parents, not the rabbi and the rebbetzin, whose deaths are described with arch humor. The story meanders through the ’70s. Gabriel becomes a professor of astrophysics. Love affairs founder. Gabriel and Marghie ease their solitude with imaginary helpmates. Neither one is a fully formed, knowable character. We don’t know Danny either, though he defines himself in spectacular fashion, first by his vow of silence to protest the Vietnam war, then by his attempt to assassinate Kissinger. This was Danny’s project: “To get even. With the big perpetrators.” It’s hard to square it with the words from the Bhagavad Gita which are his father’s mantra: “[T]he good deeds a man has done defend him.” Gregor seems mocked by that mantra too, as he slips into dementia. The novel ends in irony and ambiguity as Gabriel, a more reliable “son” than the incarcerated Danny, scatters Gregor’s ashes in Budapest.
An intellectual peep show whose ultimate meaning remains elusive.