History as fiction, fiction as history.
In Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, 19-year-old Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife while they were sitting in their car. In this intriguing collection, Martin (Changing the Subject, 2010) gives us something musical—11 variations on a theme, the theme being Princip. It owes something to Donald Barthleme’s famous 24-part postmodernist story, “Robert Kennedy Saved from Drowning.” In this collection’s first story, “The Real Enemy,” we meet Princip living in Bosnia with his good friend Danilo Ilic. They are two of six radicalized young men anxious to offer themselves up for their country’s freedom. Danilo tries to talk him out of it but he’s unsuccessful. Princip pops up, in one way or another, in every story. It’s best to read them in sequence, wondering where he’ll turn up next, like a game of Where’s Waldo. At first, it’s odd to encounter him as a ghost appearing by someone’s bed or see him finding a cellphone and hearing conversations about himself or meeting a young woman in San Diego and going out for a sandwich with her. But a fictional rhythm is being created, and various literary leitmotifs are being used from story to story—mirrors, watches, the cryptic phrase “ace of lightning”—that help link them together. In the last story, "Sandwiches," we find Princip, despondent about having failed in his attempt to kill the duke, eating at a sandwich shop, talking with a girl about sex, when the duke’s car, now lost, pulls up in front. He has another chance: “He shoots twice.” It’s fascinating to see how successful Martin will be as he moves from one fictional riff to another, playing fiction off history and history off fiction in one humorous, absurd, and serious tale after another.
Some riffs are off-key but this is an ambitious and original effort well worth checking out.