A debut novel of oversized ambitions written by a former school headmaster.
Edwards plainly dreams no small dreams. He explains in the acknowledgments that this novel has taken him some 30 years to write, though it seems to have its genesis even earlier, in the anything-goes ’60s. Or at least that is the setting in which protagonist Wheeler Burden establishes himself as something extraordinary: first as a college baseball pitcher, then as a rock star—veteran of Woodstock, survivor of Altamont, buddy of Buddy Holly, composer of the most famous feel-good anthem of his generation. Yet Burden has walked away (literally) from both the diamond and the bandstand to write a book based on the notebook of his beloved prep-school teacher, followed by a tour that results in Burden’s assassination (shades of John Lennon). Somehow (don’t ask) death transports Burden to turn-of-the-century Vienna, where most of this novel transpires. Here he encounters his war-hero father, the late Dilly Burden, who attended the same prep school and had the same beloved teacher as Wheeler. Not so coincidentally, that teacher is coming of age in that same 19th-century city. They also meet the notorious anti-Semite who will become Dilly’s father and the irresistible woman who will marry him (and with whom Wheeler engages in what is perhaps an incestuous relationship). Wheeler’s tale provides fodder for the theories of his analyst, Sigmund Freud, as the plot additionally features cameos by Mark Twain, Gustav Mahler and a very young Adolf Hitler. The burden for the Burdens is to discover whether they have any choice but to let history play itself out as they know it will, a combination of diary and prophecy that Wheeler records in the “little book” of the title. That book provides the source material from which his Jewish, pacifist mother crafts this narrative, following instructions that “all of our lives weave together in a fatal and continuous and repeating loop, one not easy to comprehend.”
Those who demand comprehension will be exasperated, but others willing to suspend disbelief might be enchanted.