Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Executor

The Executor by Jesse Kellerman has one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a long time: “I used to own half of Nietzsche’s head.” I hadn’t read Mr. Kellerman before, and that is something I intend to remedy. He is one hell of a writer.

The story is this: young graduate student, who can’t seem to graduate, notices an ad “Conversationalist Sought. Serious Applicants Only” Intrigued, and desperate for some quick cash, he answers the ad, only to meet one Alma Spielmann. Part philosopher, part Santa Claus, and all charm, Ms. Spielmann quickly welcomes Joseph, our protagonist; into her life, her home, and her will (although Joseph is initially unaware of the last item).

As I read, I kept thinking “how does he do it?” I even reread a few pages to see if I could catch it and couldn’t. Without ever resorting to obvious foreshadowing gimmicks such as “little did I suspect….” or, “if only I had known what lay beyond that door….”, Mr. Kellerman manages to convey an atmosphere of intense creepiness and menace even when there is nothing to fear. And when there is something to fear, the tension is almost unbearable. Or quite a ride; depending on how you look at it.

Mr. Kellerman has Joseph speaking in the first person, which is brilliant. Joseph considers himself a “man of the mind”, and not concerned with material possessions. Because we see the world through Joseph’s eyes, it takes a while to pick up on the clues he is leaving. Is that a bit of superiority there? A spot of self-pity? A load of rationalization? Why isn’t that dissertation finished, anyway? It’s fascinating to see how quickly this “man of the mind” is corrupted to “mineminemine”.

And we see where the menace is coming from.

Kellerman’s writing is superb. I especially enjoyed the voice of Alma Spielmann, whose slightly formal, witty, and well-educated conversation is a delight. Even more of a delight for me is in knowing that there are several more books out there by Jesse Kellerman just waiting for me to explore.

Publisher: Putnam (April 1, 2010)
ISBN-10: 039915647X
ISBN-13: 978-0399156472

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