An international thriller devolves into a fitful intellectual digression in Restivo’s rapidly changing story.
There is a mystery snuggled in among the sexual escapades and weight-lifting techniques in the first half of this novel. It appears that a shadowy, perhaps terror-driven, international organization is hungry to get its hands on Nikola Tesla’s (he of the alternating-current motor fame) lost papers, which contain coded information that may lead to dreadful consequences–consequences which are never fully explained to the reader. The thriller narrative is dappled by tangential dream sequences, mental gymnastics (â€œWe need, for example, to be able to combine ideas from German philosophy, British economics, and Russian literature.”) and lots of sex. Every bus ride is a sexual adventure, every orgasm multiple. But the thriller element does exert pull; in particular, there is a weightless, reality-bending but brilliantly vivid deep-night execution followed by an encounter with the Minotaur in Chartres Cathedral’s labyrinth. The writing is guilty of occasional posturing, and the acrobatic wordplay serves little purpose, though the protagonist, Tony Conti, is upfront: â€œWe’re real people who say and think what WE’VE experienced.” Or not. Abruptly and without resolution, the thriller is dropped as Restivo shifts the action to Tony’s postgraduate diaries. Here, again only more so, dreams, memories and yearnings are freely associated, the flux and meld of a wayward coming-of-intellectual-age story overburdened by the heavy breathing of anonymous sex of the Henry Miller variety, minus the soul-saving humor. The adrenalized diaries deliver a cracked portrait of Tony and are intensely, sometimes irksomely, full of themselves: â€œHad lunch with George P. yesterday â€¦ we talked about the problems of knowledge and being.” Or â€œI’ve invented something called â€˜The Philosophy of Existential Unity,’” supporting snippets of anarchist poetry, touches of incest and fever-dream drivel (â€œTemperature over 100F stopped work at 3pm buses uptown and downtown with legs and a coke between them like a prick being blackballed by its mother under torrid skiesâ€¦”)
Hyper-indulgent and random, but also, often enough, gleamingly chromatic, providing mild entertainment.