A self-referential first novel about truth, plagiarism, identity and writer’s block.
He’s 8 years old, with only the kindly concession holders in the airport terminal to look after him; his mother, a flight attendant, has left him in their charge. (His father was a one-night stand during a layover.) What kind of a woman would treat her son like that? We’ll never know; she never appears. Jansma is not interested in character-building, let alone plot. What’s more consequential is that the kid writes his first story in the terminal: It’s about a boy detective hiding in a trash can. Then (irony!) a real-world policeman sweeps it into the trash. Omens like these provide the novel’s steppingstones. Eight years later, the nameless narrator has an after-school job in a North Carolina art museum; keep in mind the 1863 portrait in gold of a nude woman. Next, the Nameless One is at a college in the Berkshires, where he becomes friends with Julian, another aspiring writer who’s gay, and the beautiful actress Evelyn. Later, Julian will publish a wildly successful novel; all the wretchedly unproductive Nameless can get published is a short story in an obscure journal. It’s a mashup, Julian as Anton Chekhov, and there’s a story-within-the-story about an 1863 gilder. Jansma is enamored of these echo-chamber effects; years later, the American gilder has become a Tamil on a DVD. The characters remain without substance. Evelyn may be the love of the narrator’s life, or she may be a fantasy, as much a fantasy as her eventual husband, who morphs from a Hindu geologist into a prince of Luxembourg. The narrator assumes a buddy’s identity, does some plagiarizing on the Internet and keeps moving, from Dubai to Sri Lanka to Ghana to Iceland to Luxembourg.
Jansma has a ways to go before he can master postmodern technique.