A collection of tall tales linked together by an ageless traveler.
Debut author Sevush leads readers on an imaginative tour of pulp genres and popular mythology. It begins with a pithy potboiler of a tale, “Emmett, Joey, & the Beelz,” about a drug addict, Joey Low, who may have crossed the wrong gangster, known as “the Beelz,” who he fears has marked him for vengeance. Alternatively, he may be in the final stages of a centurieslong bargain struck between a 16th-century rabbi named Judah Loewe and a divine being named Bezalel in order to rein in the terror of the Golem of Prague. Supernatural reality and heroin hallucination are granted equal plausibility in Sevush’s opening gambit, and he enjoys teasing similar balances throughout the book. For instance, “Goat-man,” the narrator of the second story, “La Joie de Vivre, or, Picasso & the Satyr,” wonders whether he’s really receiving a visit from a being called Faunus while drinking in a Paris cafe in the 1960s: “Hah,” he thinks. “Nothing more than my wine-addled mind turned in upon itself.” The collection’s central trope is revealed when the narrator is shown to be Joseph (aka Joey or Judah), a journeyman existing beyond time and place. The character thenceforth serves as the reader’s guide through journeys to the Old West, World War II–era Japan, and even a robot mining colony on a distant planet. Each episode makes intimations of cosmic significance, and Sevush concludes his compendium with a take on Arthurian legend in which Joseph becomes a vessel for unleashing ancient gods. This last, however, serves as the best example of the collection’s consistent problem: huge scope but limited space. Overall, these stories are grand, worldbuilding genre pieces condensed into a few pages each, and Sevush displays great facility with the rhythm and lexicon of the various styles he assays. However, the economy of style flattens the narrative as a whole, as it relegates each story to being an homage rather than a serious addition to the canon. Furthermore, Joseph’s involvement in some tales is often little more than a fictional editor’s note or introductory letter, making this framing device seem like an attempt to link unrelated stories that once existed discretely.
A rollicking, good-spirited ride that’s weakened by the weight of its ambition.