This darkly funny first novel by Israeli playwright Mazya combines the suspense of a murder mystery with the absurdity of a Woody Allen movie.
The narrator/hero is Ilan Ben Nathan, a dithering, self-critical professor of astrophysics who at 48 rashly marries a sexy beauty of 25. The narrative voice is captivating—surprising considering that the professor is an ungrateful mama’s boy. (“I can always dump everything I spare others on [my mother] which is her only good point,” he candidly observes.) There’s good evidence that he has become a slacker at work and, until the moment he snaps, humiliatingly ineffectual in encounters with his wife’s intimidatingly virile lover, whom Ilan forlornly describes as resembling Nick Nolte. Nevertheless, Ilan’s honesty, curiosity and weary concern for his fellow beings endear him to the reader, as when he sees toddlers at a nursery school, “standing pressed to the fence, waiting for their mothers to come and fetch them, worn out and helpless at the end of a day of exhausting survival.” The charm of this work lies in the author’s adroit use of her powers to observe and analyze human behavior. As her characters grapple with one another, she is aware of what each seeks to gain: The play of short-lived emotions—the impulse toward self-pity, or generosity, or resignation, or anger—bring her narrative to life. Capable of the subtlest poignancy at one moment, Mazya shocks us with the most savage humor the next—but always with a gleeful sense of the power of human beings to astonish one another with their ingenuity, their passion, their foolishness.
The cleverness and vitality of this narrative made it a bestseller in Israel, as it should be here. Mazya describes one brilliant character as “original without being eccentric.” It’s praise she deserves herself.