Half a century after the publication of his first novel—the Harper Prize-winning bestseller Vangel Griffin (1961)—Lobsenz offers his second: a grim fantasia of corporate espionage set in the last days of JFK’s Camelot.
Jake Garrison, the novel’s cynical, rather paranoid protagonist, is a New York-based big-business hatchet man who spends his downtime between assignments being grumpy to wife Diana—an executive for a city publishing firm—and tending to his dying father, an old-time Hell’s Kitchen character he idolizes. Garrulous old Garrison Sr. was once the chief of obstetrics at a Manhattan hospital; now he’s an embittered crank who wants to die—and needs Jake’s help to that end. Jake encounters further frustration in the form of his unfinished, unpublishable novel. When his sleazy business associate, Carnusty, sends Jake to downsize the once-venerable, now failing Kensington typewriter empire—suffering from the onslaught of cheap portable electric models, the visionary advances of MIT and competition from the foreign markets—Jake’s life reaches the crisis point: is Diane carrying his child—or someone else’s? How responsible should he feel for the lives he ruins? And what the hell is Carnusty really up to? Lobsenz deftly sets a bleak tone with passing references to the long, lethal slide precipitated by President Kennedy’s assassination in late 1963 from bright populuxe optimism into the dark social disorder of the Vietnam War era, telegraphed in chillingly casual asides about racism, Kitty Genovese’s murder, unbleached versus bleached flour (“Why does everything depend on how good our pies are?” one female character asks, semirhetorically) and the subsequent rise of the multigenerational dysfunctional family unit as cultural touchstone. Lobsenz bedizens his expertly crafted novel with oblique allegory and a fine catalogue of minutiae regarding early modern typewriters. Implosion is imminent and inevitable, the author makes clear, though the birth of a child suggests that a momentary delay just might be possible. But for how long?
Highly recommended for hermetically inclined technophobes and those who prefer their anomie steeped in the (bitter) Sweet Smell of Success over the breezy satire of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.