A love story with a metafictional wrapper and more puns than Rapunzel had hairs on her head.
On a commuter train chugging through New Jersey, a book editor named John tells of how he is buttonholed by a fellow named Katz and agrees to listen to him recite a novel by his brother, also known as Katz, whenever their rides coincide. The story of the internal novel concerns an affair between a casually observant Jew also named Katz and a Christian woman named Maria who meet as they wait for a commuter trolley to Boston. They progress quickly to intimacy via their shared intelligence, sensuality, and fondness for wordplay. But Maria is “slowly filling with guilt,” until she eventually takes a vow of chastity. It’s a distressing development for Katz. But which one? The Katz who is the protagonist of the novel within the novel and has a brother named Katz in that underlying fiction, or the Katz who is the author of the NWTN, or his brother, Katz, the reciter of the NWTN within the novel. Having fun yet? Leviant (Kafka’s Son, 2016, etc.) certainly is. He alludes to his own previous books and to a novelist named C.L. Eviant, and he never met a bad pun he didn’t use: “Whodunnit? Hedon it. Hedonist. I’m a hedonist. But she, she wasn’t a shedonist.” Readers may enjoy the verbal silliness and meta-mischief but feel shortchanged on substance. Leviant’s characters often feel like pawns for his playfulness even when things turn serious—if not sacrilegious—in matters of faith. The anatomy of the affair is almost devoid of real tension, especially as it must frequently yield to the metafictional hijinks, which themselves make for annoying echoes as new versions of chapters are introduced and give Leviant a chance to have his Katz and repeat it.
Entertaining in places but unsatisfying overall.