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The Little Bookby Selden Edwards
Synopses & Reviews
An irresistible triumph of the imagination more than thirty years in the making, The Little Book is a breathtaking love story that spans generations, ranging from fin de siècle Vienna through the pivotal moments of the twentieth century.
The Little Book is the extraordinary tale of Wheeler Burden, California-exiled heir of the famous Boston banking Burdens, philosopher, student of history, legend's son, rock idol, writer, lover of women, recluse, half-Jew, and Harvard baseball hero. In 1988 he is forty-seven, living in San Francisco. Suddenly he is — still his modern self — wandering in a city and time he knows mysteriously well: fin de siècle Vienna. It is 1897, precisely ninety-one years before his last memory and a half-century before his birth.
It's not long before Wheeler has acquired appropriate clothes, money, lodging, a group of young Viennese intellectuals as friends, a mentor in Sigmund Freud, a bitter rival, a powerful crush on a luminous young American woman, a passing acquaintance with local celebrity Mark Twain, and an incredible and surprising insight into the dashing young war-hero father he never knew.
But the truth at the center of Wheeler's dislocation in time remains a stubborn mystery that will take months of exploration and a lifetime of memories to unravel and that will, in the end, reveal nothing short of the eccentric Burden family's unrivaled impact on the very course of the coming century. The Little Book is a masterpiece of unequaled storytelling that announces Selden Edwards as one of the most dazzling, original, entertaining, and inventive novelists of our time.
"The subtitle of Edwards's Twain-indebted debut, written over the course of 30 years, might be 'A California Yankee in Doctor Freud's Court.' Following a physical assault, Stan 'Wheeler' Burden is precipitated into the past — 1897 Vienna, to be exact — from 1988 San Francisco. Wheeler has been a teenage baseball star and famed rock 'n' roller, but he's dreamed of Vienna since his prep school days, where his teacher, Arnauld Esterhazy, instilled a love of the city's gilded paradoxes. Vienna of 1897 is indeed hopping: Freud is discovering the Oedipus complex, Mahler is conducting his symphonies, and the mayor, Karl Lueger, is inventing modern, populist anti-Semitism — which the young Hitler will soon internalize. Making this a true oedipal drama, Wheeler's father and grandparents come to town, too, all at different ages, and with very different agendas. Edwards has great fun with time travel paradoxes and anachronisms, but the real romance in this book is with the period, topped by nostalgia for the old-school American elite, as represented by the we-all-went-to-the-same-prep-school Burdens. This novel ends up a sweet, wistful elegy to the fantastic promise and failed hopes of the 20th century." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
What if you could travel back in time, strangle 8-year-old Hitler and avert the Holocaust? What if you could travel back in time and bring your grandmother to her first orgasm? Kind of makes you think, doesn't it? These are the bizarre questions Selden Edwards explores in his novel about a family caught in a history loop. When California rock legend Wheeler Burden... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) wakes up in 1897 Vienna — 50 years before his own birth — he has no idea how he got there or how he'll get back, but he recognizes the city from the stories told by his favorite prep school teacher. Conspicuous in his 1980s garb, he quickly steals some clothes from an American businessman who turns out to be his future grandfather. Big mistake: Grandpa's not the kind of guy you want for an enemy. But then Wheeler spots another time-traveler: His young father has just popped in from World War II, equally confused about how he arrived. Dad insists that he and his future son do nothing to disrupt the future, but he's dying to visit the Hitler family. Meanwhile, Wheeler can't resist the beauty of a young tourist from Boston who will someday become his grandmother. (Even when we learn they may not be genetically related, that doesn't lessen the ick factor much.) What's weirdest about this weird story is how straight-faced Edwards plays it. As it jumps back and forth in time, everything in "The Little Book" signals the wackiness of John Irving or John Barth, but Edwards moves through his chronology-scrambled fantasy with such earnestness and nostalgia that he smothers all its potential comedy. That problem is particularly egregious in the chapters at the St. Gregory's School in Boston, where Wheeler spends his teen years. There we meet his prep school mentor, Arnauld Esterhazy, nicknamed "the Venerable Haze," who's taught history for more than 40 years. Edwards, who went to a Boston prep school himself and later worked for several private schools, suggests in an author's note that these scenes stem from beloved memories, but that lack of emotional distance leaves no room for irony. The narrator lavishes all kinds of apparently sincere praise upon the Venerable Haze, but to me he sounds like Miss Jean Brodie in drag. Haze refers to his student devotees as his "Jung Wien." When he first meets Wheeler, he says, "We have much to learn from you, Herr Burden, as we begin writing on your tabula rasa." He prattles on about Vienna during its "time of delusive splendor." He frequently reads passages about the city "with great reverence" from "his prized source, the 'Little Book,'" and then asks the kids, "Isn't that writing absolutely exquisite?" This sounds satirical, but it's not meant to be. Edwards claims that "over the years his Jung Wien, sophisticated private school boys who could be cynical about so much in their lives, rarely directed any of their derision at the 'Little Book.'" We never hear anything from this book ourselves, but we're told again and again how great it is. In fact, Edwards makes so many hyperbolic claims that "The Little Book" begins to sound rather flat, like a tall tale told without a wink. Edwards can't stop petting Wheeler and reminding us how wonderful he is. Of course, he's incredibly good looking and sexually athletic, but he also writes a foundational work of 20th-century philosophy and inspires "the beginning of the American feminist movement." (You didn't think women could do that on their own, did you?) And he throws the fastest pitch in college baseball (at Harvard, naturally). Then he writes "the most famous song of the 1970s" and becomes "one of People magazine's Most Recognizable." Then he publishes a best-selling book in the 1980s. The whole narrative is soggy with hero-worship, like the fantasy of a skinny teenage boy staring into a mirror. Edwards does far better describing the coffeehaus culture of prewar Vienna in all its beauty, political agitation and rising anti-Semitism. Some of the historical figures here during the fin de siecle make nice cameos, too, such as Gustav Mahler and Mark Twain. After Wheeler pops into the late 19th century, he supports himself in Vienna by telling the story of his life to a young doctor named Sigmund Freud, who's convinced this strange man is seriously delusional. Their discussions provide an interesting snapshot of Freud's work in progress, but, unfortunately, the doctor never springs to life, largely because Edwards won't allow anyone to upstage Wheeler. Even the founder of modern psychology must take pointers from this brilliant rock-star time-traveler. In the end we learn that Wheeler's family is responsible for just about every major event in the 20th century. Including the Frisbee. But we never know why or why their "lives weave together in a fatal and continuous and repeating loop." Since most readers will suspect from the outset that Wheeler and his father won't be able to avert the Holocaust, their dilatory adventure doesn't generate much suspense. Instead, the story evolves into a peculiar romance as Wheeler woos his future grandmother and helps her overcome her Victorian inhibitions using Dr. Freud's new talking cure. Their love may be doomed, but who can resist the thrill of watching the two of them "riding the wave of mutual passion to the crest"? Go, Grams! Ron Charles is a senior editor of The Washington Post Book World. Send e-mail to charlesr(at symbol)washpost.com. Reviewed by Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[A] good and compelling read. Recommended." Library Journal
"The Little Book is presented with undeniable brio. Enthusiasts of Vienna and narratives of time travel are in for a thrilling adventure." San Francisco Chronicle
"Readers may find the overabundance of coincidences maddening, but that won't keep them from reading on to the shocking climax and the thoroughly satisfying and elegant resolution. Myriad readers will enjoy this book..." Booklist
"Those who demand comprehension will be exasperated, but others willing to suspend disbelief might be enchanted." Kirkus Reviews
"Selden Edwards's impressive debut novel is richly inventive, woven tightly with incident, and fully engaging. It is also superbly humane and readable." Richard Ford
"Selden Edwards's The Little Book is a wonderful novel and I think it has a chance to become a famous one. I've never read a novel like it. And I felt like my life was changing forever as I savored its many delights and mysteries." Pat Conroy
"A work that feels effortless...Part mystery, part meditation on the marriage of past and present, part love letter to a bygone era, the novel moves fluidly through time and place, belying its three-decade creation." Playboy Magazine
Unabridged CDs ? 12 CDs, 15 hours
An irresistible triumph of the imagination more than thirty years in the making, The Little Book is a breathtaking love story that spans generations, ranging from fin de sie?cle Vienna through the pivotal moments of the twentieth century.
“The Lost Prince can stand independently of The Little Book … but why deprive yourself of the pleasures of reading both?” —Booklist
Recently returned from fin de siècle Vienna, where she tragically lost the first great love of her life, Eleanor Burden settles into her expected place in Boston society, marries a suitable husband, and waits for life to come to her. Eleanor’s story is not unlike that of the other young women she grew up with in 1890’s Boston, except for one difference: Eleanor believes herself to have advance knowledge of every major historical event to come in her lifetime. But soon Eleanor’s script of events begins to unravel, and she must find the courage of her deepest convictions, discover the difference between predetermination and free will, find faith in her own sanity, and decide whether she will allow history to unfold come what may — or use her extraordinary gifts to bend history and deliver the life she is meant to have.
About the Author
Selden Edwards began writing The Little Book as a young English teacher in 1974, and continued to layer and refine the manuscript until its completion in 2007. It is his first novel. He spent his career as headmaster at several independent schools across the country, and for over forty years has been secretary of his Princeton class, where he also played basketball.
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