A novel within a novel spanning one eventful spring day in New York.
There’s nothing special about Larry Bloom, a city tour guide, aspiring novelist and loser in love. As the novel begins, he laments that “there hasn’t been a civil rights movement for the nondescript and homely people of the world.” On the flip side is the object of Larry’s affection, Starshine Hart, whose physical beauty shines. Larry has written a novel for and about Starshine, from her perspective, an imagined narrative about the day he will reveal his love for her as well as the existence of his book and—with luck—the fact that it is to be published. Everything hinges on the contents of the letter from Stroop & Stone, Publishers, which Larry picks up in the book’s opening pages and tucks away to open later. At first, the structure of Appel’s (The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, 2012, etc.) novel—the purportedly real-time adventures of Larry interwoven with chapters from Larry’s book—seems a familiar approach in emulation of John Irving (The World According to Garp, 1978), Kurt Vonnegut (Mother Night, 1961, Slaughterhouse-Five, 1969, etc.) or Margaret Atwood (The Blind Assassin, 2000). What’s different here, though, is that the “real world” action and the fictional events of Larry’s novel are taking place on the same day and that all of the events and musings from each narrative thread will somehow have to come together at day’s end, in a real-world conclusion, when Larry and Starshine have their date. To read the book—to separate out the “fact” of Larry’s story from the “fiction” of the book about Starshine and to realize that all we learn of Starshine is filtered through Larry’s romantic and novelistic ambitions—is to undergo an exercise in what Appel describes, in the question-and-answer section at the end of the book, as postmodern romance: “hyper-aware, ambivalent, fragmented.” Interwoven plot points—things Larry couldn’t possibly have known about in order to have written about them in advance—further stress the fact that readers’ understanding of time, cause and effect is fragmented and partial at best. Still, Appel’s clever, evocative prose deftly navigates the story’s witty dialogue, high drama and only occasionally overblown imagery.
An inventive exploration of the place where love, chance, expectations and ambitions intersect in the city that never sleeps.