May 10, 2007
Books: Englander taps Kafkaesque isolation in ‘Special Cases’
(Page 2 - Previous Page)That clash of the real and surreal is intentional, of course, and it's probably a fair portrayal of how it feels to live under a merciless government. But rather than being two strands always together, each inescapable, the moods tend to alternate so that one passage might be lyrical and dreamy, while another, brutal and hard-edged, feels lifted from a different book. This unevenness distances us from the characters, because it's unclear whether they're meant to be individuals or icons, like Kafka's Josef K., who is a powerful symbol but a symbol nonetheless.
Kaddish and Lillian's interior lives are limited, their actions determined by a singular goal: "Find my son." They are deformed souls, what their government wants them to be. But if they are not particularly memorable, their predicament, as described in this sad, sad novel, is.
Again and again, they go to the Ministry of Special Cases, where they learn that they're not special and have no case. It ruins nothing to say that Pato never returns. If you thought he might, you haven't read enough fiction about authoritarianism. You'd do well to start here.
Nathan Englander will appear in conversation with Jewish Journal columnist Tom Teicholz on May 21 at 7 p.m. at the Los Angeles Central Library, 630 W. Fifth St., downtown. The event is free but reservations are requested. For more information, visit http://www.lfla.org/aloud/registration/
This article is reprinted with permission from The Forward.
Mark Oppenheimer is the author of "Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Across America" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005).
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