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FLEA CIRCUS by Mandy Keifetz Kirkus Star


A Brief Bestiary of Grief

by Mandy Keifetz

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-936970-04-9
Publisher: New Issues

Tim Acree, Brooklyn barkeep's boy, merchant sailor, entomologist, aka Professor Aloysius, flea-circus ringmaster, lies dead, a suicide, at the bottom of a tenement air shaft. And Isabelle Oystershifl mourns.

Keifetz's (Corrido, 1998) second novel, the winner of the 2010 AWP Award, simply dazzles. Izzy, a math geek, always reliant on "the sweet bounds of cold, clean, reason," now realizes that "my great belief has been in my love for Timmy." Izzy works for a large bank, but she isn't defined by her cubicle. Her connection with Tim shaped her world, soothed her psyche and soul. Now Tim's unexplained suicide, a leap into the abyss without word or note of despair, has unhinged Izzy. The novel is 23 chapters, titled with word-names beginning with letters from "A" to "W." The first is Altamont, the name of the couple's cat, and within it Keifetz delves into the human body falling "at 32-feet-per-second per second," the tenement where the two met and lived, the cat hoarder from whom they pilfered Altamont and a brief biographical sketch of Tim. And so it goes until Izzy arrives at "W," for the Wall, a concrete buttress near her childhood home. All that Izzy believes, all that surrounds her, all that she conjures up in her misery becomes a metaphor for Tim, for their love, for her life without him. Attempting to cope, Izzy plays classic logic games, contemplates William Blake, regards the evolution of megafauna. Sharing her world is Mark, Tim's bar-owner brother, who attempts to draw Izzy from despair, and Dr. Edward "Pudge" Goroguchi, another entomologist, inventor of the flea-breeding artificial dog, and owner of an Izzy-coveted dream car, a 1971 Plymouth Road Runner. Goroguchi becomes Izzy's lover, each of them fulfilling an oblique longing beyond love, despair and sex. The novel takes the reader to the dark place where reason and love collide and collapse under the oppressive weight of loss.

A tour de force.