THE HERMIT OF 69th STREET: The Working Papers of Norbert Kosky by Jerzy Kosinski

THE HERMIT OF 69th STREET: The Working Papers of Norbert Kosky

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Kosinski's first novel since 1982's enervating, creative dead-end Pinball finds him digging an even deeper pit (529 pp.) to lie in--and all smiles about his literary daring in trying to reinvent the English tongue, which is--as with Conrad and Nabokov--his second language. His first miscalculation, however, is to bury the reader under a staggering blanket of boredom before introducing a few scenes to enliven his text. The boredom rises quickly as Jay Kay (the author) and his alter ego, ÉmigrÉ novelist Norbert Kosky, splash each page with boldface quotations from their literary and alchemical masters. Occultist Mircea Eliade, Jewish scholar Gershon Scholem (author of Sabbatai Sevi), various yogic texts about kundalini, Wittgenstein, Joseph Conrad, Dostoyevsky, Freud, and Thomas Wolfe are most often invoked, amid bales of snippets about big breasts and soixante-neuf from invented men's magazines--all of which raillery relentlessly snaps the faint stow-threads that appear. The novel presents the working papers of the disappeared Kosky, the hermit of West 69th (soixante-neuf!) Street in Manhattan. Kosky was embarked on a hermeneutic, ""auto-fictional"" novel that is more notes than novel. A survivor of the Holocaust, he came to this country from mythical Ruthenia, had some hit novels, then dwindled with failures and now seeks absolute spiritual freedom through Tantric yoga and through thumbing his nose at superficial readers. Some scenes (as when Kosky nearly falls into the crevice of the world's most big-bosomed black barmaid) really are only headstuff and resolve on an empty, cryptic smile. Many scenes, usually sexy, are quite but not awfully funny, as when Kosky chases a visiting Ruthenian poetess, hires a line editor who wears a leather labia-spreader under her skirt, becomes an Oscar presenter at the Academy Awards, or is hired by Beau Brummel (Warren Beatty) to appear in his movie, as are other autofictional events that gather rather than grow. As with Nabokov, Kosky's obsessive punning and word-prisming rarely tickle. One can admire Kosinski's chutzpah in inventing this massive mess and still fail to enjoy fully any single page.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1988
Publisher: Henry Holt