Tuesday, August 05, 2008

NOW YOU SEE HIM by Eli Gottlieb

Eli Gottlieb's book is about loss; not just loss of a friend or sibling, but about loss of self. Nick, the narrator of NOW YOU SEE HIM, was always proud of his status as Rob Costner's special friend. Rob was cool, a cult-writer, a minor celebrity in New York city; whereas Nick was not. Nick was the one that remained behind - a small town man with a respectable job - watching Rob's glamorous life from a distance.

Then, one day, Rob dies and Nick cannot adjust to the bereavement and is changed. Everything - his marriage, his relationship with his parents and his children - begins to unravel as he seeks solace in his other endearing memory of childhood - Rob's sister, the luscious Belinda.

The interplay between these two characters is touching in the extreme. Like Nick, Belinda is hurting at her brother's death, and the way Eli Gottlieb portrays this is as terse as it is beautiful.
'I parked and shut off the engine, but made no move to get out. She for her part simply continued to sit there, saying nothing. After a long moment, she lowered her head. Gently, very consolingly, I placed my hand on her knee.

"Yup," she said simply.

"I know," I said.

There was another long silence.

"It's not," she said quietly, "that I simply miss him like a kind of sickness, Nick, or that I think about him constantly, or whatever. It's the awayness of it that I'm having trouble with..."

"Of course it is, Belly."

"It's like on a basic level, I just refuse the whole thing. I mean, the body was there, vivid, so powerful - it couldn't go away, could it? I keep feeling there's gotta be some way back. I keep feeling it's like he's in the next room, and can't figure our how to turn the door handle and get back in...."
I think I've said this before but for me, what makes great fiction is a recognition of truth. 'That's it!' I want to say, 'That's it, exactly.' And I think Eli Gottlieb captures exactly that feeling of uncomprehending disbelief we all have when someone close to us dies.

That is one aspect of their relationship, but this is counterbalanced with moments of hilarity. Here they are later in the book in a restaurant, and Belinda is playing 'twenty questions' i.e. guessing the features of Nick's life:
'"Wooden fruit bowl on the kitchen table?"

"In fact, yes."

"Ethan Allen in the living room?"

"Philippe Stark from Target, actually."

"When the last time you felt happy to feel your wife's hand on your arm?"

"No comment."....

...."Riding mower?"

"Jesus, self-propelled."



"Have you ever," she asked, leaning back in such a way as to subtly cantilever her breasts into my line of sight, "had a screamin' hot flush about me?"

"Good afternoon," interrupted the resonantly self-conscious voice of the waiter, "might I inform you of today's specials?"'
Eli Gottlieb clearly has an ear for dialogue, but he also has an artist's eye for those small nuances of character, and deftly paints them in with the lightest touch:
'The doctor tapped his forefingers together in a gesture that signalled either thoughtfulness or applause while a single eyebrow, with astonishing independence from its twin, rose and fell...'
Apart from the quality of the writing, I also liked the overall structure of this book - the way it unfolded in the present and in the past, one interleaving with the other until the history of both Nick and Rob is revealed. And that history turns out to be an entanglement that is just as satisfyingly complicated as the narrative itself.

It's an engrossing read, a page-turner, reminding me of the writing of people like Richard Ford and also, somewhat, Patrick Gale, and I highly recommend it.


Blogger Kay Cooke said...

Thanks for the review; will be keeping an eye on that one.

Tue Aug 05, 10:12:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Yes, I really loved this book...

Wed Aug 06, 09:37:00 pm  

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