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Antonello's Lion by Steve Katz
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Antonello's Lion

by Steve Katz

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Not quite 4 stars, but I rounded up out of a New Year's spirit of generosity. Marked down due to some typos & stylistic tics (e.g.,using himself and themselves in place of him and them), as well as some hard-to-believe plot developments(unbelievable in terms of a novel that deliberately blurs the genres of Gothic, fantasy, science-fiction, historical, mystery, philosophical & psychological fiction). The book's tiny but thick format makes it a bit hard to hold but also accelerates the reading process, so that 582 pages speed by like 300. According to a book jacket blurb, Antonello's Lion is about "the failure of Humanism in the West." Hmmm. It's also about failed fathers or failed fathering, which perhaps amounts to the same thing. The novel encompasses two parallel narratives, two quests: the first takes place in 1962-64 and involves Solomon Briggs, his obsession with the paintings of Antonello da Messina & his search for an imagined "lost" portrait of St. Francis, which will provide proof once and for all of both the painter's genius & Solomon's own belief that da Messina's paintings show the way to a secular spirituality. Solomon leaves his newly-pregnant lover, the obsessed-with-red painter Isabel, in Venice to travel to Sicily & the southern tip of Italy on what turns into an improbable journey with a macabre ending. Almost forty years later, in 2001, Solomon & Isabel's son Nathan decides, while in Venice with his fiancee Miriam, to confront his mother (now the militant feminist performance artist Brightwatch) in order to glean whatever clues he can about his father's pre-natal disappearance. Nathan then sets off on a quest to find this lost father that mirrors Solomon's journey several decades earlier. The son follows in the father's footsteps, both literally & figuratively. Nathan's narrative has its own weird fantasy/ Sci-Fi touches: e.g., his friends Max & Holly with their virtual-reality kingdom in Colorado, their residence/ motel built in the style of a Travelodge, which features Max's most recent product development: "dildonics." Near the end, Nathan's quasi-icky attraction to Max & Holly's 10-year-old daughter Tanya almost threw a wrench in the works for me, but I decided to let it pass, as the novel doesn't quite go THERE. Katz doesn't try to make his characters either believable or empathetic. When he writes, "Nathan couldn't deal with his vulnerability to the pssst," he might just as well be describing his own authorial vulnerability to his characters' flaws & sometimes downright awfulness. ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
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