If you read a book about an eighteenth century Jewish peddler being transformed into a housefly, I think it’s best if you aren’t reminded of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. But maybe that’s just me. Much of Rebecca Miller’s book is more lighthearted, that’s for sure. But that’s not to say there’s nothing of depth in this wild story. Miller, daughter of Arthur Miller, and wife of Daniel Day-Lewis, has written only one other novel and a collection of stories, but is known mainly for being a film writer/director (among her films are Personal Velocity, and The Ballad of Jack and Rose). If the quality of this book is any indication, I think that will change very soon.
Like a fly on a rib roast, Jacob buzzes around a select group of people in the 21st century, where he is transported. But unlike a housefly, he can read their minds, influence them, and learn their histories. (I know, it sounds like quite a jump for a piece of writing that really doesn’t read like science fiction or fantasy, but somehow it works). Also, for quite a while, he’s under the mistaken assumption that he’s an angel, rather than an insect. Naturally, discovering the truth is quite a comedown for him. Here, he explores the TV in the hospital room of the young Orthodox Jewish woman who becomes one of his life projects:
Flying in neat circles in the light of the luminous box, I was enlivened by my memories. What a joyous time a handsome young angel could have with this lush girl, as that sickly rag doll snored behind the curtain. I felt my sex so keenly it was a torture not to be able to touch it, to reassure myself it was still there, but my withered angel arms were too short, I could only wave them miserably. What if, as an angel, I had no sex, only desire? that would be a tailored hell. I had to know what I was!
I won’t include the actual moment where he figures it out; it’s much more fun to go the whole route with him.
I found this book one of the most imaginative I’ve ever read. Even though it’s the first book I finished in 2014, I’m all but positive it will be one of my favorites of the year.
author photo: Ronan Day-Lewis