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The Grand Complicationby Allen Kurzweil
Synopses & Reviews
A stunning and suspenseful intellectual novel by the author of the critically acclaimed international bestseller A Case of Curiosities. Kurzweil's second novel is narrated by Alexander Short, a stylish young reference librarian of arcane interests. His job in jeopardy and his marriage becoming unhinged, Alexander finds odd solace in the notebook he keeps tethered to his jacket. Enter the improbably named Henry James Jesson III, a bibliophile who hires the librarian for some after-hours research. The task: to render whole an incomplete cabinet of wonders chronicling the life of a mysterious eighteenth-century inventor. As the investigation heats up, Alexander realizes there are many more secrets lurking in Jesson's cloistered world than those found inside his elegant Manhattan townhouse. A delicious compendium of quirky colleagues, erotic pop-up books, deviant passions, and miraculous examples of theft, the book is a grand and complicated "timepiece," told with a devilish sense of fun.
"Packed as it is with historical esoterica...inside jokes, and plays on words, The Grand Complication is a feast for a particular kind of reader the sort who delights in ferreting out hidden meanings and significant correspondences....For all his love of devices, Kurzweil can't seem to concoct what must be the most blatantly mechanical type of story line: a solid mystery plot. And often, his love of the elaborate conceit trumps psychological common sense....Furthermore, while the underlying message of The Grand Complication is that a passion for catalogs and other compartments can stifle the spontaneous, earthy side of life, it's really a book that foments that passion....While I suspect that librarians will fall in love with The Grand Complication (it is a paean to the joys of research), it...lacks the expansive feel and intriguing factoids of everyday 18th century life to compensate for the faintness of its heartbeat. Like the automaton built by the hero of Kurzweil's earlier book, it doesn't strike quite the right delicate balance between the human and the machine." Laura Miller, Salon.com
"Using his highly acclaimed debut, A Case of Curiosities, as a springboard, Kurzweil delivers a remarkable novel a flawless blend of adventure, intellect, suspense, humor and antiquity....The robust cast of supporting characters includes a bawdy library director whose nickname is the 'Librarian of Sexual Congress'; a Marie Antoinette groupie who once tried to steal the queen's pillow from an exhibit; and a no-nonsense businessman determined to open a museum devoted to all things obsolete. All come together with great finesse in this enchanting quest one that is sure to appeal to fans of Arturo Perez-Reverte and anyone who appreciates an intellectual romp." Publishers Weekly
"In a kind of sequel to Kurzweil's first novel, A Case of Curiosities (1991), Alexander Short, NYPL reference librarian, comes to the aid of a bibliophile named Henry James Jesson, who is searching for information about an eighteenth-century cabinet (the 'case of curiosities') whose contents tell the tale of a man's life....As Short is forced to confront the most challenging of reference questions (Who am I?), Kurzweil revels in the minutiae of librarianship while at the same time offering a thought-provoking, deeply philosophical meditation on the problem of identity. This is a delightfully intricate jewel box of a novel, and it works on multiple levels. Librarians will find the book a riotously funny in-joke (name the last novel in which the phrase 'presort the reshelves' appeared), while connoisseurs of the most sophisticated literary-historical thrillers will lose themselves completely in Kurzweil's multifaceted world. The charismatic Short immediately joins the protagonists of Martha Cooley's The Archivist and Ross King's Ex-Libris on the short list of fiction's best bibliophile heroes." Booklist (starred review)
The much anticipated, beguiling new novel from the author of the critically acclaimed A Case of Curiosities. Allen Kurzweil's debut novel, A Case of Curiosities, created an international sensation, garnering a front-page review in the New York Times Book Review, and literary honors in England, France, Ireland, and Italy. Now he returns with The Grand Complication, another accomplished work narrated by Alexander Short, a reference librarian who feels his passions — both professional and personal — waning. With a boss threatening to exile him to driving a bookmobile in Amish Country and a headstrong wife whose erotic pop-up books fail to revive the couple's lost intimacy, Alexander retreats to a world of private annotation. Enter Henry James Jesson III, a collector with an improbably literary name, who shares a number of Alexander's unconventional interests: calligraphy, hidden compartments in continental furniture, fore-edge painting, and the works of Samuel Johnson. Soon, Jesson hires Alexander for some after-hours research. His task: to render whole an incomplete case of curiosities, which tells the life story of a mysterious eighteenth-century inventor. To satisfy the assignment, Alexander must first discover what once filled the case's lone empty compartment, then find out where the missing object now resides. As his search advances, the librarian realizes there are many more secrets in Jesson's life than the ones found in his dazzling Manhattan salon. Aided in his investigation by quirky colleagues and a feisty wife, Alexander ultimately revives his dormant desires, and by doing so transcends a relationship as complicated and ill-fated as the object he's been hired to recover.
About the Author
Allen Kurzweil has won various awards, including fellowships from the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library and the Guggenheim Foundation. He is currently a Fellow at Brown University's John Nicholas Brown Center. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island, with his wife and son.
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