“OR SO IT SEEMS”
By Paul Steven Stone
Reviewed by Manson Solomon
If the title of Paul Steven Stone’s novel doesn’t tell us that we are about to enter a world in which we are not quite sure what is real, the blind elephant tapping his way across the cover confirms it: something different is about to happen in these pages. The old Hindu legend of the blind men each feeling a different part of the elephant and coming to different conclusions as to what they are confronting is well known, but when it is the elephant itself which is portrayed as blind and groping its way through the world, what’s up with that?
Stone’s view of the world as it might appear through the eyes of a blind elephant will not surprise those already familiar with his wry sense of humor portrayed in his collection of pieces assembled in How to Train A Rock. Serious stuff masquerading as burlesque, Mark Twain meets Philip Roth meets Saul Bellow meets Paul Steven Stone. The hilarity begins very early on with the protagonist being dragged towards a ratty couch by his determined would-be seducer, who, we later discover, turns out to be his nine-year old son’s schoolteacher. Whom he discovered at a bizarre singles dance which he finds himself attending after his disorienting divorce. And then there is the hilarious encounter with the gold-digging single mother whom he picks up at the scouts’ pinewood derby — where his creative effort to fashion a car from a wooden block – painted pink! — results in embarrassment for him and his son. Yes, it’s funny, but it’s also serious, since behind the humor the protagonist’s escapades constitute an existential exploration, a quest to find solid reality – what is — behind the illusion of appearances — what seems — and to restore dignity to his life after a debilitating divorce.
Sound like Bellow’s Moses Herzog with a sense of humor, Roth’s Alexander Portnoy without the hysteria? Well, perhaps so, since where Bellow tried to restore his hero’s emotional equilibrium via intellectual scribblings, and Roth paraded his overwrought Freudian ejaculations for help, Stone gives us an ongoing dialog conducted with The Bapucharya, a giggling videotape Hindu guru. Ah, the elephant, the Hindu god Ganesh seeking reality beyond the facade of illusion! But, being Stone, the dialog is laced with wry humor, parody, irony, is never didactic, always offbeat, amusing. How is this possible? Well, you’ll have to read it yourself to find out and to have your sight restored. And if you don’t make it all the way to Enlightenment, at the very least you will be wholeheartedly entertained while engaged in the quest.
Manson’s review struck me as particularly perceptive, especially as it places the book into direct comparisons between the works of Saul Bellow and Philip Roth. Very interesting, I thought, and well worth sharing. So here we are. Sharing.