Raucous adventure tale of a man’s journey from the Dead Sea to the top of Mt. Everest, in a hundred vignettes touring early 20th-century pop culture.
Author Siegel’s mother reveals in a prologue that Siegel’s recently deceased father wasn’t really his father. His real father was Isaac Schlossberg, a showman and adventurer who left behind a box of papers and a mysterious game that looks a lot like Chutes & Ladders but is actually Snakes & Ladders, a chessboard-like device of Eastern origin. Stories are written on each of the squares of his version of the game, and such is the book: a hundred chapters detailing Schlossberg’s madcap adventures. Says second-novelist Siegel (Love in a Dead Language, 1999), “To play the game, it seems to me, is to become acquainted with the author in the same way we get to know a person in real life.” The “squares,” or chapters, go from the Wild West to the Mystic East, and through the Prime Meridian to Novel Antipodes, eventually heading toward the enlightenment of Everest, where it may turn out that Schlossberg made it to the top before Hillary. The story, fragmented and random (and entirely without paragraph breaks), offers up history in an old-fashioned pop culture—biblical figures in the context of vaudeville acts, for example. There are cameos from famous figures (“Buffalo Bill and Geronimo were shooting it out for the heart of Matanka Hickok at the Old London Theater,” or ‘ “I act according to the intent of the Almighty Creator,’ ” Germany’s chancellor, Adolf Hitler, said in a speech at an anti-Jewish rally in Munich”). It’s never clear whether we’re supposed to read the book or play it, and one wishes the “game” came with a clearer set of instructions. But the cast is lively and the history complete. Even if we don’t buy into Schlossberg’s adventure entirely, Siegel is there to tell us that “A person’s lies always reveal some truth about them.”
Vast and zany.