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by Jesse Ball

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-307-38746-2
Publisher: Vintage

Surreal tale from Ball (Samedi the Deafness, 2007, etc.), an assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, of a young pamphleteer, a Coney Island guess artist and their joint effort to search for and save an amnesiac woman.

Selah Morse, who has just self-published his master-pamphlet, “Worlds Fair 7 June 1978” has, literally through nepotism, been appointed “municipal inspector” with the Seventh Ministry, a Kafkaesque bureaucracy whimsically plunked down in modern Manhattan. His colleagues, boss Levkin and message-girl Rita, toss assignments, wisecracks and enigmas at him with abandon. One day, Selah accompanies a mysterious young woman to the hospital after she’s been hit by a taxi. Naming her Mora Klein, he poses as her boyfriend and promises to keep her awake for 18 hours to prevent brain damage and restore her memory. During their vigil at his apartment, Selah recounts stories that double back upon each other and nest like Russian dolls. First, Darius, a lucky gambler, marries beautiful Ilsa but accidentally barters her to a diabolical merchant. At a country Inn, Ilsa encounters Selah and his fellow traveler in the quest for Mora, a guess artist, skilled at divining thoughts. At a Victorian house whose inhabitants can never leave, Selah and sidekick learn about Count M., unfaithful beloved of a Russian empress who punished him by forcing him to marry Kolya, the ugliest of women. Sif, possibly Mora’s alter ego, meets Morris, a boy who is a tree climber and far walker. Morris guides Selah down a twisting burrow to a meadow inhabited by a kind couple who are really foxes. Mora won’t see Selah until he has come to the Inn “thrice, and by three different paths.” The third path returns Selah to his apartment, and he and Mora, having survived the night, head to Coney Island to consult a certain guess artist.

Although not for readers without patience for experimental fiction, this Jungian house of mirrors offers riches, including fractured fables whose characters occasionally threaten to burst their archetypal bonds.