Page 25 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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PINSKER / THE CONTEMPORARY JEWISH-AMERICAN NOVEL
17
focuses on B e rna rd Malamud, Edward Louis Wallant (
The
Pawnbroker
), Saul Bellow, George Steiner (
The Portage to San
Cristobal of A.H.),
Leslie Epstein (
King o f the Jews),
I.B. Singer
(.
Enemies, a Love Story),
Chaim Potok
(In the Beginning),
Richard
Elman
(The Reckoning),
and Cynthia Ozick — and while there
are moments that strain o r tha t do not entirely convince, there
is little question, I think, that imaginative reflections on the Hol­
ocaust have become a significant new direction in Jewish-
American fiction.
CHALLENGING TREATMENT
The Final Opus o f Leon Solomon
may well tu rn ou t to be the
most impressive novel o f the bunch. It is a dar ing and disturbing
book — dar ing because its large ambitious drive toward the
very cen ter o f the Holocaust universe; disturbing because the
visions o f “survivorhood” one discovers along the way are so
relentlessly shocking. Badanes’s protagonist/historian means to
tell us the “history” o f his own suicide, and in the process, to
intertwine the darkness o f mitel-Europe with the moral vacuum
and sexual perversity o f contemporary society. Since his is the
novel’s only point-of-view, we are forced to experience Solo­
mon’s experiences and for longer than many may p re fer, en ter
into the hellish world o f his unconscious.
Leon Solomon is clearly a man at the end o f his psychological
tether, not because he suffers all the predictable slings-and-
arrows o f old age o r because his scholarly career has ended
in public exposure, humiliation, and shame (he was caught steal­
ing documents from the Judaica collection o f the New York
Public Library, and as a consequence, he has been banned from
all public libraries and from his profession as a historian), but
because he is haun ted by ghosts from his traumatic past.
When the novel p rop e r opens, Solomon is holed up in a seedy
midtown Manhattan hotel, his last days divided between fu r i­
ously writing his “last opus” — his excruciatingly painful re-
memberance o f things past — and orchestrating his suicide.
Things, in short, have fallen apa rt for Solomon, and possibly
for us as well; the universe’s moral cen ter can no longer hold.
As he puts it:
There is a metaphysical law, and you can depend on meta-