By Jesse Kellerman
Penguin Audio; Unabridged Edition (2010)
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - June 22, 2010
You need to understand. I am a fan of the Kellerman mysteries, by Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, so when their son's books appeared, I ignored them, thinking that with their connections they probably arranged for his books to be published even though they were no good.
Then on Friday, I was at the public library on my way to the gym, and I saw this book. Seeing nothing I liked better, I decided to try it. After two pages, I was disappointed. This wasn't a crime novel. But I was stuck. I was on the treadmill exercising and reading. I had only spent five minutes on the treadmill and I had fifty-five minutes to go, and this was the only book that I had in hand. So I continued. And the more I got into the novel, the more Jesse Kellerman pulled me in. When I got off the treadmill and made my way to the shower, I had decided to finish the book. I had read thirty seven pages during the hour.
The book is about Joseph Geist – the German "geist" means spirit, something Joseph lacks. He is fond of one half of a book end pair that he found in a used merchandise store, a half a bust of the notorious German genius philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche - who descends into madness in the last years of his life. But Joseph, although smart is only half a Nietzsche. These are my comments, not the author's.
Joseph, who grew up with an abusive father, an overly passive mother, a brother who escaped the family by committing suicide – or did he? – is in Harvard University, unable to write a clear coherent dissertation on philosophy to get his PhD, even though he has over 800 pages of rambling nonsense. He answers an unusual newspaper ad from a near 80 year old once beautiful, certainly intelligent and rich woman, Alma, who wants to hire someone to come to her house daily for intellectual conversation. Alma, who grew up in Vienna and who came from a good family, had a thesis which she completed many years earlier on a philosophical subject. The thesis was never submitted for a PhD. I think of Alma Mahler when I read about this Alma. She was the beautiful very talented wife of the famous composer who never let her develop her own talent or publish her own musical compositions. But Kellerman may not have made this association.
The book has other interesting characters that are finely drawn. A girl he lives with who throws him out when he suffers from dissertation mental block. Will she later want to take him back? Alma's nephew, as despicable as she is gracious, who comes to visit his aunt frequently to ask for money. How far will he go to get money?
There is murder, of course, but not in the Jonathan or Faye sense, more like Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.
So, while I only read thirty-seven pages during my first hour into the book, by Friday night, I was going at the rate of fifty pages and hour, and by Saturday morning, I was speeding along to the end at sixty five pages and hour. It was so good.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of fifteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Rabbi Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.gefenpublishing.com. The Orthodox Union (OU) publishes daily samples of the Targum books on www.ouradio.org.