A satirical modern take on the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac.
As unfair as it may seem to use a writer’s own self-deprecating words against him, it’s hard to forget, once you’ve read the acknowledgements page of Bacharach’s (The Bend of the World, 2014) novel, the author’s admission that his agent, after reading the first draft, told him “in the nicest possible way that it didn’t make any goddamn sense.” Perhaps the final version is an improvement over that initial assay, but unfortunately, the book still doesn’t make much sense. Bacharach’s biblically inspired tale weaves together two stories, toggling somewhat confusingly among the late 1980s (or early '90s), the present day, and various times in between. Abbie Mayer, a New York–based architect of some environmentally forward-thinking renown, who, either because he has impregnated his mistress (and been caught by his wife, Sarah) and has been inspired (while attending synagogue) by a religious vision of a deer on a hilltop or simply because he needs to make a fast buck (no pun intended), moves to Pittsburgh and begins to consult for his lesbian sister’s real estate business. Sometime closer to the present day, a young woman named Isabel makes her own move from New York to Pittsburgh to work at a nonprofit called the Future Cities Institute, through which she meets Abbie and Sarah’s son, Isaac, and eventually becomes intertwined with the family, although we are left to guess at a few essential details. One of the book’s key faults is that the author takes great pains to explain some plot points (the details of a soured deal among Abbie, his sister, and their business partners are spelled out in a nearly 40-page-long arbitration-hearing transcript yet nevertheless remain difficult to grasp) and leaves others unexplained altogether (the progress of Isabel’s relationship with her love interest is especially sketchy). What's more, characters and motives often don't ring true, and Bacharach often seems to sacrifice conciseness and clarity for the sake of cleverness. To be fair, the book contains a few interesting story ingredients, but they seem ill-measured and lazily mixed and, like a haphazardly made cake, never seem to quite set.
Bacharach’s book is admirable in its aspirations but fails to deliver on most of them.