As a famous political folk singer fades into old age, scattered members of his circle contemplate their own incomplete relationships with this elusive man.
There’s a dark star at the center of British television producer Elton’s (Mr. Toppit, 2010) second novel: Isaac "Iz" Herzl, the celebrated activist singer whose recordings, appearances, campaigns, archives, and interactions with other famous protesters have rendered him a living legend. But Iz, now 80, is kind of a black hole, a remote figure whose three children scarcely know him. Narrated from the points of view of four characters orbiting the near-silent celebrity, this is the story of how Iz Herzl came to be and the ripple effects of his life on those connected to him. His daughter, Rose, ponders her father’s detachment while caring for her younger brother, Huddie, who's dying of a form of muscular dystrophy. Joseph Carter, Iz’s oldest child, grew up estranged from his famous father but has constructed his own, more mainstream showbiz career, a spotty tale of success mixed with dubious emotional connections. Shirley, Joseph’s longtime friend and the wife of his musical partner, contributes her own unhappy experience to the mix. And then there’s Maurice Gifford, a schoolboy at odds with almost everyone around him until he finally makes an important friendship. Elton pieces together these often humdrum characters in a teasingly tepid fashion. Rose’s intelligence and her close attachment to Huddie are the strongest aspects of a patchwork quilt of a story, set in the U.K. and dominated by the vacuum of Iz. The novel’s formula is a blend of light, rather English humor, tragedy, and individual experiences of struggle, which, even when exposed and combined, don’t amount to quite enough substance.
A thoughtful but cool second novel. The melody doesn’t linger on.