In Erickson’s (Zeroville, 2007, etc.) latest, the lives of Zan and Viv have imploded in the wake of their adoption of Sheba, an Ethiopian toddler “supernaturally cognizant beyond the span of such a short life.”
Alexander Nordhoc—Zan—is a novelist, but he’s written nothing new for years. Instead he teaches and works as a disk jockey at a pirate radio station. Viv is a gifted photographer, one whose most prominent work was plagiarized by a celebrity poseur. Viv is indifferent. The Nordhocs are also too broke to sue. In fact, they face foreclosure on their California home, a house that’s also, and symbolically, rat-infested. Into this mess comes a missive from J. Wilkie Brown, occupier of the J. Wilkie Brown Chair of the University of London, and Viv’s one-time lover. Brown offers Zan £3,500 to lecture on the “Novel as a Literary Form Facing Obsolescence in the Twenty-First Century.” Too little to rescue them, the money is also too much to refuse, especially since Viv, white-angst guilty, wants to accompany Zan to England and fly on to Ethiopia and find Sheba’s mother. Chapter-less, a stream of interconnected vignettes, Erickson’s narrative segues toward surrealism while mimicking the chaotic interior emotions of real life. Threads and characters serendipitously stumble through a missing-link chain of coincidences, with mazes and labyrinths both real and imagined. Erickson even references Mussolini’s use of mustard gas and a pizza-delivery mugging evoking Do the Right Thing, all while Zan dreams in parallel of a novelist who plagiarizes the future. The story is dense with cultural references and there’s a beautiful, elegiac remembrance of Robert Kennedy, his campaign and assassination, from Jasmine, a grey-eyed Ethiopian woman whom RFK met while in London. Later, Jasmine will work for a Bowie-like rock musician, during which time she becomes pregnant with Molly, who becomes Sheba’s temporary nanny during the Nordhoc’s sojourn.
With this book, set against the backdrop of Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency, Erickson weaves a complex and imaginative literary tapestry about family and identity.