A gathering of new stories by Kalfus (Equilateral, 2013, etc.), drawing on his long-established interests in history, science, and at least a few of the seven mortal sins.
A self-satisfied French financier “in the service of the public” luxuriates in the oversized bathroom of an oversized deluxe hotel in New York, reflecting on a pattern of sexual behavior that has landed him in the newspapers and in court—and on the legal and political radar of his home country as well, since “Sarkozy is another Nixon” keen to put evidence about his enemies, however gathered, to bad use. If the reader connects with a certain legal case much in the news of late involving a French financial wizard and an African hotel housekeeper, then it’s certainly no accident; the value Kalfus adds, so to speak, often involves illuminating certain prurient details (“With her eyes closed and her skirt pulled up, she was intently fingering herself”) while examining the psychology of a man who blends an unhealthy dose of paranoia with a host of very real enemies. Whether those enemies are deserved or not is for the reader to judge, but Kalfus’ titular novella, detached and sometimes stilted, won’t do much to engage his or her moral compass, well-written though it is. The shorter stories tend to be less fraught than all that; one is a seemingly tossed-off vignette about a spell in the hygienist’s chair (“Given the long, bloody history of my gingivitis, I go in for a periodontal cleaning every three months”), another an obligatory homage to Borges, still others less obvious nods to Borges, some quite effective, as when Kalfus imagines the possibilities of resurrecting a language “that is not spoken by more than one other living person.” In one of the best pieces, human law meets quantum physics; in one of the least successful, a would-be writer laments how hard it is to be a would-be writer.
A mixed bag: not as satisfying as Kalfus’ recent novels, though technically accomplished and often with great insight into the curious ways of people.