July 26, 2014 | Rome, Italy | Partly Cloudy 27°C
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Fiction

War Music

Christopher Logue's personal "Iliad" recharges Homer and makes the ancient actual.

The Book of Disquiet

Mystical, erudite, sad, self-effacing, wise — Fernando Pessoa's "confession" is all those things.

Cosmos

For Polish novelist Witold Gombrowicz, the universe counts dead cats and onanism.

On Such A Full Sea

In a clear warning about Chinese ambitions, novelist Chang-Rae Lee turns to future shock.

Silence Once Begun

Underrated Jesse Ball again enters territory few American novelists venture into.

The Great Fire

For Shirley Hazzard, mid-20th century fires raged both in both world and heart.

Break it Down

Lydia Davis' early stories demonstrate an uncanny gift for "real-time" subversion.

Death Sentence (L'Arrêt de mort)

Blanchot's seminal "novel" is about the act of creation itself, and its costs.

Talking to Ourselves

Andrés Neuman's slender but astute novel examines death from three sides.

The Unknown Quantity

Hermann Broch's novel of the life and times of a 1920s mathematician is sadly overlooked.




BOOK REVIEW
Gentlemen of the Road
By Michael Chabon
Ballantine Books, . 204 pages

Clocking in at a scant 204 pages, it would be inaccurate to call "Gentlemen of the Road" Michael Chabon's second published novel in six months. In fact, "Gentlemen" reads more like a novella, something to be read with the lights out or around a dying campfire. Surely this was Chabon's intention, as he is the reigning master of High Genre Fiction.

But unlike his truly masterful "Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" and nearly masterful "Yiddish Policeman's Union," both of which used genre-play as a template for serious fiction (does the term make us cringe?), "Gentlemen" lacks a convincing plot and well-drawn characters. The action is set in Khazaria, a mythical Jewish kingdom wedged in between the Caspian and Black Seas, around the year 900 C.E.

The heroes — or "gentlemen of the road" — are a pair of horse-thieves, a huge black African named Amram and a wiry Frank called Zelikman. The book is almost nonstop action (knife fights, chases, cursing by humans and animals in various languages), although one gets the impression Chabon himself had only a vague idea of where it was headed as he was writing. The reader is left boggled by illustrious locutions like, "…despite his protestations of senescence, which were universally regarded as gamesmanship…" Chabon, one of our great novelists, could have benefited from a re-reading of the Elements of Style.

Reviewed by Marc Alan Di Martino
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