An arch metaphysical mystery from Smith (The Divine Comedy of John Venner, 1992, etc.).
This is the kind of book in which Mafia goons say things like, “What we have here is text and commentary,” and when someone administers a lie detector test, he asks, “Are you in league with the dark gods?” The guy with the dark god obsession is artist Cosmo Dust (get it?), who has had painful experience with the randomness of fate: His adored wife Cathy died after eating an Easter egg laced with cyanide by an unknown maniac. At first it seems that this will be a relatively conventional story of grieving, as we meet Cosmo in Las Vegas shortly before Christmas and shortly after he’s quit his job painting a replica of the Sistine Chapel ceiling for the Golden Calf casino (get it?). His memories of Cathy tell a touching story of love and loss. It’s too bad that they lead into a convoluted saga involving a dead cocktail waitress and Cosmo’s flight from the law with a baby and a Mafia chief’s daughter—no, actually she may be Pope John Paul I’s illegitimate daughter, or maybe she’s the female Messiah that Gnostic Christians have been waiting for. Readers inclined to say, “huh?,” at this point are not the right audience for Smith’s mannered narrative, which really goes off the rails when characters begin talking about Earth and counter-Earth (the former moves from genuine to fake, the latter in the opposite direction) and about “intermittency,” which is “a moment when the old order is discovered again.” All this high-falutin’ chat sends Cosmo and the Pope’s daughter to the Venetian hotel’s fake Piazza San Marco, where in the novel’s most arbitrary twist, Cosmo meets the man who murdered his wife.
The author provides first a tragic and then a happy ending, relying in both cases on the readers’ emotions to give the dénouement a weight his highly artificial text has not earned.