HABITUS by James Flint


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A darkly witty English import about the lost souls of the information age. Jennifer, a ferociously unconventional hoyden; Joel, an American Jewish mathematics wunderkind; and Judd, the woebegone product of a black, upwardly mobile father and a beautiful, brainless white movie-star mother, combine as the author’s —thoroughly unholy trinity.— But that grandiose formulation overstates the case. These three young people, each in thrall to an inflexible destiny, are merely lost. They are information-age aliens, isolated and adrift in a way deterministic enough to recall, of all things, a novel such as An American Tragedy, in which Dreiser’s overwhelmed protagonist has his own existential cards stacked against him. Joel is the luckiest. For him, at least, mathematics generates occasions of compensating warmth. Judd falls in love with gambling. Jennifer dabbles in sex and drugs. Joel and Judd never actually meet, though in one poignant scene they unknowingly cross paths. Each, however, has a role to play involving the third J’s womb—a commingling that Flint brilliantly and amusingly describes at length. Joel marks his growing up by breaking free of the Hasidic family so ill-equipped to understand him. Ten-year-old Judd wanders for a time into Jennifer’s orbit, where she—three years older—enables him to part with his virginity. Later, Joel turns up in England, at Cambridge, and in the tangential manner common to all three, has a brush with Jennifer, becoming afterward her teacher and, even more briefly, her lover. The lives of these characters are unrewarding, fitfully relieved by bursts of energy but never by anything resembling joy. Their ends are bleak. Digressive and overstuffed, yes; still, there is some remarkable prose here from a talented newcomer who is as difficult to classify as he is to read. And, even so, his people do linger.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-312-24545-9
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1999