It’s helpful that the title page characterizes this debut volume by NPR and magazine writer Goldstein as “(A Novel),” for otherwise the reader might be even more perplexed by the assortment of bite-sized vignettes, observations and non-sequiturs that challenges categorization.
Even the agile mind of the late Lenny Bruce (who receives the briefest of name checks here) would have difficulty determining what to make of this. The elliptical narrative was first published in 2001 in Canada, where the Brooklyn-born author lives. The anti-plot features a nondescript protagonist named Josh who works at a fast-food dive called Burger Zoo. Josh’s father is Chick. Josh’s mother is Frieda. Frieda is sick. Or dying. Or dead. Josh’s narrative makes such leaps of chronology and consciousness that just when the reader has determined that Frieda has died, she returns to life. Josh has a best friend named Kaliotzakis. Josh also has a series of girlfriends, though except for the changes of names as they come and go from these pages, it’s difficult to distinguish them. Josh has a rabbi with messianic aspirations who sells something called Kosher-style Love Lotion. The Love Lotion appears to be more repugnant than seductive. Sex is only one of the bodily functions that obsesses Josh. Maybe Josh has no inner life or maybe all he has is an inner life. Maybe all of this meandering is a meditation on consciousness, or connectedness, or time as it operates within the Mobius strip of the mind. Maybe it’s designed to subvert every expectation of narrative progression and character development, as if those who perceive life and art in such linear fashion haven’t recognized that the illusion of linearity is itself a trick of the mind. On occasion, Josh disappears, replaced by the first-person narration of “I.” Whether or not Josh is “I” doesn’t seem to mean more than anything else within this random, seemingly arbitrary assemblage of paragraphs.
Has the world gone mad? Has Josh? Or has Goldstein?