In this comic novel, a front-runner for gangsters leaves New York for Hollywood, where he becomes involved in filming a 1,000-year-old Japanese book.
Following the 1929 stock market crash, Jean-Yves LeFouet, the French-Canadian who narrates this engaging tale, figures it’s time to leave town: His boss, who was involved in a shady bunco scam, has just been thrown out of a high window by angry investors. Scamming isn’t Jean-Yves’ preference; “something of a drifter,” he’s fallen into jobs like rumrunning. “I love books and reading and the life of the mind and all that, but smuggling booze pays considerably better,” he says. So when he high-tails it for California, it’s not long before he gets a job running errands, caddying and chauffeuring for a small-time film producer. Englishman Charles Blaine Granyer (“Chilblain” to Cambridge pals) wants to adapt The Tale of Genji, written by Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu in the 11th century, into an erotic film. Jean-Yves juggles his job, his growing interest in a lovely haiku-writing bookseller and various underworld intrusions—including the return of “Big Department,” the quarter-ton, 6-foot-7-inch overlord of his New York days. Upton Sinclair, Louise Brooks and Fritz Lang all make appearances as well. Voorhees (The World’s Oldest Professions, 2013, etc.) has written what is very much a fun, champagne-fueled romp, but the book is well-grounded in realistic details and offers many thoughtful, witty observations from poetry-loving Jean-Yves. His experience with Wall Street leads him to some prescient conclusions: “[E]very last one of these guys is working some scheme….They call themselves investment bankers, traders, financial intermediaries, brokers, market makers. Unmakers is more like it.” Contemplating Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach,” Jean-Yves concludes that “the world is ignorant and violent but that we have one salvation before us, which is to hold tight the people we love and to be true to them.” A satisfying conclusion draws it all together.
Delightful fun with a surprisingly warm heart.