Over on the Unbridled Books blog, publisher Fred Ramsey wonders why the new book by a much-lauded author has been widely unreviewed.
The first is that Estrin’s profile may not yet be high enough to warrant a newspaper review when his new book is hard to describe or categorize or compare to any but his earlier work. The reviewers’ prior acknowledgment of Estrin’s intractable brilliance notwithstanding. The second possibility is that Estrin’s publisher is a small press. The issue there is not personal to us. And I don’t take it that way. It’s just that, even though our books are widely available through all the traditional bookselling channels, book-page editors may assume that their readers won’t be able to find a book with our imprint because it’s not that of an Island publisher.
I could well be wrong about both possibilities. Maybe reviewers just couldn’t take this one, either couldn’t stomach it or were unwilling to take on the challenge it poses to the reader. Maybe editors were trying to do us a favor by delivering us from their reviewers’ condemnation. I would certainly appreciate that sort of thing for one of our debut novelists, would even be downright grateful. But I should think the reception of Estrin’s first two novels would preclude such considerations. I mean, a fellow with a couple of lauded, if not well-known, books is pretty much fair game, isn’t he?
Well, I’m going to take up for this book. I read Golem Song back in December (it took me all of 3 days). I had heard Marc Estrin’s name bandied about, and I wanted to see what he was all about. I found this book to be sharp, erudite, complex, and deliciously comic. It was good enough to make me go back to Estrin’s backlist, and I’m now reading his first novel (which I am also enjoying). ** He has become an emerging author that I am keeping my eye on.
I don’t know why this book has not received as much review coverage as Estrin’s two previous books, but I will recommend it without reservation. It is the story of Alan Kreiger, a New Yorker who slowly (but comically) descends into his own private paranoid world and ends up on the brink of violence. This sounds heavy, but it isn’t. In my opinion, Estrin stays true to his rather unpleasant subject-matter while maintaining a fundamentally comic feel.
Along the way, Estrin weaves in numerous myths (from Greek to Jewish to modern American), explores Jewish identity, gets into the sticky debate over Israel, and even manages to look into the great Tolstoy-Dostoevsky divide. He integrates a ton of texts into this book and (I believe) challenges the reader to go back to them, read the whole thing, and think through the matters raised for herself. All this in just over 300 pages that rush by as though they were really about 150.
I don’t think this book is without its faults, but I did enjoy it a lot, and I think it wraps a great deal of substance into what is a fundamentally well-crafted, entertaining narrative. After finishing it, I went back through, looking at all my notes, and I began to see more and more depth in this book. This, in my opinion, is the mark of a good book. I don’t know why it’s been passed over for review coverage, but hopefully this humble blog can give it a little well-deserved attention.
** Even though I normally feel like this kind of thing is unnecessary, because either you trust a blogger or you don’t, I am beating the drum for Estrin rather heavily today, so, disclosure: After finding out how much I liked Golem Song, Ramey–who I think is Estrin’s #1 cheerleader–enthusiastically emailed to offer me a copy of Insect Dreams. Obviously, this had no bearing on my opinion of Estrin or either of his books, much in the same way that the sky being blue has no impact on my take on Philip Roth, but some people seem to believe otherwise, so, there, I just said it. This blog is about promoting literature, and that end isn’t served by getting behind crappy books.
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