A marvelous novel, by turns lyrical, realistic, dreamlike, and philosophical but always intelligent and gorgeously written.
The narrative opens at an academic cocktail party, with all the pretension that such a party traditionally entails. In his wandering away from the action, Daniel, the narrator, comes across a copy of Wonders and Tales, a book that had meant much to him as a child, at least in part because his father had forbidden him to read it. The book becomes both a catalyst for Daniel’s memory and an inspiration for his own struggles as a novelist trying to complete a manuscript (not coincidentally entitled An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky). Beachy-Quick periodically returns us to Daniel’s life as an academic, with his various literary loves (especially Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson). In one splendid episode, Daniel substitutes for an indisposed friend and teaches a class on its final day of discussing Moby-Dick. Daniel shows himself to be, like Ahab, obsessed, though Daniel’s obsession is with the beauty and power of the novel. (At the end of the class, one of the students, a boy Daniel ultimately suspects might be his own son, comes up and introduces himself as Ishmael.) But Daniel’s academic career is only one of the narrative threads Beachy-Quick deftly weaves together. We also learn of Daniel’s relationship with Lydia, a physicist who loves and challenges him, of the elusive Pearl and her mother (an artful allusion to Hawthorne), and of his contentious ambivalence toward his father. Throughout the story, the narrator explores the philosophical ramifications of the self, of the slippery “I” who makes statements about the truths and distortions of fiction.
Accomplished, self-assured and engaging.