A novel that works on many levels—allegorical, historic and mythic.
The main character is Joseph Rosenbloom, or just Bloom as he’s known throughout the novel. His family life is largely unhappy (shades of Leo Tolstoy), for his mother has died, and his father, Jacob, takes him across America to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles. Jacob’s history is itself an interesting one; after years together in an orphanage, he has children with two twin sisters, Rachel and Leah. He’s a clever inventor who has refined a sprocket drive for Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope, a foretaste of things to come, as much of the novel focuses on the budding film industry. Bloom and his father, still grieving over Rachel, Bloom’s mother, live a life largely removed from society. Bloom eventually discovers he has a half brother, Leah’s son Simon, who’s different from Bloom in almost every conceivable way. Simon is flamboyant and open, for example, while Bloom remains dark and brooding. Much of the narrative is consumed with Bloom’s attachment to eccentrics in the film business, especially egomaniacal directors and ruminative artistic types. (We’re told that one director, Gottlieb, “couldn’t properly be himself if he wasn’t being a nuisance. To feel relevant, he told Bloom, he needed to be in the company of people who properly loathed him.”) We also learn of Bloom’s gradual sexual awakening and initiation and of Simon’s complicity in Bloom’s appreciation of feminine beauty.
A dense, difficult and demanding read—not for every taste.