Once when he was dining with Rabbi Goldman in Chicago he stopped in the midst of Mrs. Goldman’s pot roast to discourse on the improbability of a God or a life after death. Rabbi Goldman’s eleven-year-old daughter listened gravely, then replied, “Mr. Darrow, Mother gave me a beautiful box of beads for my birthday, and when I dropped the box the beads rolled all over the floor because they had not been strung. We need God to string together all the different parts of life.”
Darrow smiled as he replied, “I won’t argue with this younger generation. I’ll stick to the older generation, they’re easier.”
From Clarence Darrow For The Defense, by Irving Stone.
We are all of us parts of God, parts of His dream, His desire, but none of us know any more than our own role in His plan, if indeed He has a plan, and is not merely moved this way and that by cosmic Whim, as sometimes seems to be the case. And so I, a tendril in God’s imaginings, had to be informed by another entity, as insubstantial as myself, just what my task was to be.
“And an affector.”….
And my Task?
“To announce, and to affect, the end of their World.”
I don’t have to explain myself.
The instant I saw it there, sitting with the woman, I knew what it was. The stench of God was all over it, like dried roots, like stored apples. Laughing! And a servant.
I am not a servant. We are not servants. He Who We Serve is not our master but our lover. We act from our will, no others. Could this…thing say as much? Or any of its swooping, tending, message-bearing ilk?
And did its master really think he could sweep away this compost heap without the knowledge of He Who We Serve? We love this world! How it seethes, how it struggles, how it howls in pain, what colors there are in its agony! It is our greatest joy, the human race. We cannot see it removed, like game pieces from a table at the end of the day, simply because he’s bored.
Don’t be afraid, you wretched vermin. We will save you.
I’m going to try and make this a one-part review. I have several reasons for this, but chief among them is that hard as I look, the only edition of this book I can find is the first one, from The Mysterious Press. So I don’t even know what images I’d use for a Part 2. I don’t believe that’s ever happened before. Westlake novels nearly always got a bunch of editions, foreign and domestic. If there are any foreign editions at all, I can’t find them. And that’s more ironic than I can possibly express.
This is not on its surface the kind of book The Mysterious Press was established to publish. If this is a crime novel, a mystery, and I think you could make a fair case that it is, then the criminal mastermind is God Himself, his primary henchman an angel, and their intended victim is Life on Earth. The novelist Michael Upchurch (no, I never heard of him either), reviewing this novel for the New York Times, referred to it as ‘universal fiction,’ which I kind of like, and Westlake might have too, but the review, while decent enough, says that Westlake’s prose is ‘hokey’, that he has an excessive reliance on italics (oh really?), and this keeps the book from being as good as it might have been.
Much as I agree with Mr. Upchurch that this book could and should have been more than it is, hokey writing and over-accentuated typography are not the problems with it (oh no, I used italics!). But in saying it failed to live up to its potential, I am, of course, assuming I know what it was supposed to achieve. The Great God Westlake moves in mysterious ways. That’s why he’s a mystery writer.
This much we do know–it was supposed to be a best-seller. It was written for that express purpose. Westlake mentions in the dedication that Evan Hunter told him he should write something large in scope, unexpected in subject matter, and in that it most certainly succeeds. Lawrence Block, in a piece you can find in The Crime of Our Lives, went into a bit more detail about that conversation, and I think a rather vital clue to why this book failed (in more ways than one) is to be found there.
While Evan hit the bestseller list a couple of times, it frustrated him that he didn’t sell better. Men and women who couldn’t write their names in the dirt with a stick were hitting the list all the time, and he wasn’t, and he couldn’t understand why. Once he and Don Westlake were on a plane together, lamenting the fact that neither of them was writing the sort of book that had a real shot at bestsellerdom. They agreed that each would make a special effort to come up with a genuinely commercial idea, and before the plane landed Don told Evan triumphantly that he’d done the trick. The perfect can’t miss idea had come to him.
The idea? The narrator’s an angel, sent to earth on a mission. Don wrote the book, called it Humans, and three or four people went out and actually bought it.
Probably a few more than that (I’ve found a surprisingly large number of positive online reviews), but then again, I can’t find even one other edition, and I looked hard.
I cannot help but detect a certain unseemly note of satisfaction in Mr. Block’s recounting of that telling little anecdote (it’s a writer thing), but had he been so inclined, Mr. Westlake could have reminded him of Ronald Rabbit Is a Dirty Old Man, a 1970 novel about a man in his thirties engaged in various orgiastic activities with a group of bisexual teen-aged Catholic school girls, that Block wrote in four days, and which he had at the time firmly believed would be a huge critically acclaimed racy best-selling novel along the lines of Lolita, The Ginger Man, and Portnoy’s Complaint. They had good drugs back then, didn’t they?
Bad writers can write bestselling novels on purpose, by design. With a few rare exceptions (maybe Stephen King), good writers can’t. Because good writers are good precisely because they are not prisoners of formula (even those known for a specific genre), because they listen more to their inner voices than to book sales. The rest is up to us, our secret desires, which are hard to predict, once you’ve strayed away from the mediocrity of market surveys.
Westlake got close to the bestseller lists a few times in his life, but never, not even once, with a book he wrote to that end–the harder he strove to reach that goal post, the further away it got. It always came as a surprise to him when a book of his sold especially well, and not always a pleasant one either (we’ll be talking about an instance of that a few books from now).
So right away, we see the identity crisis in this novel–not in its characters, but in itself–that it is at the same time striving to break away from the kind of story Mr. Westlake was known and admired for, to convey a powerful (and not entirely palatable) message to all of humanity–and at the same time is basically trying to out-Hailey Arthur Hailey, who Westlake had lampooned mercilessly with Comfort Station, years before. “Earth–crossroads of five billion private lives.” Or in this case, just five, standing in for the five billion.
When you know you’re so much better than most of the people selling untold millions of books, it must be frustrating to keep failing to reach those Olympian heights. You have to settle for having actual depths, and plumb them as best you can.
Westlake more than once referred to Humans as a special favorite of his among his many novels, but I’ll point out once more that calling something your favorite is not the same thing as calling it the best. Our preferences and our judgment are often at odds with each other, a human oddity the angelic narrator of this novel (parts of it) would be at some pains to point out. And if I want to make this a one-parter, I had better be at some pains to get the synopsis in gear. This one’s going long, so bear with me. And my italics, pace Upchurch. (Upchurch–I can hear Westlake chortling all the way from 1992).
Humans is divided into three Hegelian sections–Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis. The chapter count does not reset at the start of each new section. As we’ve seen him do in several previous books, he alternates between numbered third person chapters, and first-person narrated interludes, in this case from two different characters–an angel and a demon–each commenting on the story thus far, and speaking directly to the reader about the apocalyptic situation that is unfolding–and with the usual Westlake perversity, it’s the demon who is trying to reassure us, and the angel telling us we’re all doomed. For such beings, there is no fourth wall, it seems.
The premise is actually very simple–God has gotten tired of us. We’re not entertaining Him any more. We just keep doing the same stupid things, over and over again. It’s boring. He’s got a lot of other shows to watch (we’re informed there are many other inhabited worlds in His Universe), so He’s deleting us from the cosmic TiVo. Permanently. But there are rules to how this is done. He won’t just smite us. God gave us free will, and it is by our own volition that we must shuffle off this mortal coil.
God dispatches Ananayel, a relatively callow and inexperienced angel, who hasn’t been to earth in centuries (his last memories of Manhattan involve birch bark canoes). He thinks this is because some of the more experienced angels like Michael and Gabriel could have hidden sympathies for humanity. Knowing so little about us, he won’t have any interest in our survival. Angels have free will as well, he explains. They can choose to disobey, and one of them did, quite famously (there’s a very long poem about that, and you see an early edition of it up top).
All knowledge of our civilizations is available to him, along with the services of legions of cherubim (he insists they are not chubby infants in diapers like in the oil paintings), but his means of enacting the doom of Terra are limited. And it’s the entire planet that is to be destroyed, you should understand–not just humans, but all biological life. Clean sweep. The Big Guy’s not kidding around like he was with that flood. No rainbows this time. No doves. No bacteria, even. Nada.
Ananayel must find five representative humans, from each major racial group (black, white, Latino, Asian), and each major inhabited land mass (North and South America, Eurasia, Africa–sorry to tell ya, Australia, but you didn’t make the cut–and you’re doing so well at the Olympics too). They must all speak a shared language (English, in this case, but we’re told if this attempt at Gaiacide doesn’t work, French might be next). And they must all have some reason to give up all hope in the future–without having actually done so yet. It is that choice–the choice to give in to utter and absolute despair–that Ananayel is to invoke within the five of them, at a crucial moment in time. At that moment, they will be given the physical means to commit suicide on behalf of us all.
Ananayel is capable of possessing a human body, but this is a power that angels only rarely use, and on this mission he will use another ability to create physical forms for himself, which he can do with ease, becoming anyone he needs to be, creating a variety of human identities for himself, to influence his five catspaws, move his playing pieces across the board. This latter power is something that the fallen angels have been deprived of–they can take on many different shapes, but not a human form–so they have to rely heavily on possessing existing bodies in order to interface with humans.
And as God dispatched just one angel to bring about our destruction, Lucifer, having learned of God’s plan, and thoroughly disapproving of it (we’re like the best most dysfunctional reality show ever–so fun! God doesn’t know good TV when he sees it!), may only send one demon of consequence to oppose–we never learn his name–he is referred to only as ‘X.’ That’s him talking up top, and we never do get quite enough of him for my liking–far and away the most engaging character in the book, but that’s always going to be the case, isn’t it, when you bring demons into a story.
Everybody who reads Paradise Lost (I first read it in high school) sooner or later starts skipping over the tedious moral sections to the parts with Satan and his brimstone brigade. C.S. Lewis, that most conscientiously committed of Christians, was invariably more entertaining when he wrote about such devilishly compelling creatures. There is much of his senior devil Screwtape in ‘X’, but Westlake’s incubus is not addressing his dear nephew Wormwood–he’s talking to us. The way you or I might talk to a hissing cockroach somebody gave us as a pet. Kind of cool to watch, but still disgusting.
As for the widespread belief that they inevitably win, well, that’s just crap, isn’t it? Of course it is. If they inevitably won, we’d no longer be here, would we? But here we are.
And here you are, you scrofulous fleas. And now he’s after you as well, isn’t he? Now you’ll know what it’s like to suffer his snotty displeasure. But be encouraged. He can be resisted, as we are here to prove. He was just an early master of propaganda, is all.
But how shall we save you bilious earth-lice from your creator’s boredom? First we have to know what he’s up to. He’s always, of course, up to something: testing Job and Isaac, tempting Thomas and Judas, on and on. Idle hands are whose workshop?
The notion that the biblical stories all happened in some form, but that the versions of them we have, the interpretations they place upon events, are mere heavenly hype, is not a new one. The science fiction writer James Blish had covered this angle very well in 1968, with his short novel Black Easter (or Faust Aleph-Null). I can’t be sure Westlake read it, but note with interest that a minor character in that supremely dark story (that I’m oddly disappointed to learn Blish wrote a more optimistic sequel to) was named after Anthony Boucher, that great linking element between mystery, science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and someone Westlake knew very well also.
Westlake had mainly cut his ties to science fiction by the late 60’s, but that by no means proves he stopped reading it. And if we consider that book science fiction, wouldn’t this also qualify? Westlake’s book actually has real science in it–well–kind of. We’ll get to that.
Jesus was part of God’s plan, we seem to be told here, but he was a mere mortal–God was using him to try and get His experiment back on track. God tempted Judas to betray Jesus, because he needed a martyr. Somehow I don’t think Westlake’s Catholic School teachers would approve, but no question at all–they left a mark. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic–you can never really shake it off, and the more you fight it, the stronger the influence becomes. I know what I’m talking about. But enough of the ethereal. Let’s talk about the humans. They are, after all, what the book is really about.
Although Ananayel is only supposed to recruit five people, factors in a planet-killing equation, he needs sufficiently appealing bait to dangle in front of one of them, and she ends up becoming a factor in her own right, so we’ll start with her.
Well, yes. I have made a study of this one problem, while my players have been ricocheting toward one another, and I have proved to my own satisfaction that Susan Carrigan is nothing special. There are millions of such young women scattered over the globe, unmarried as yet, doing small things with clean neat fingers, whether in banks like Susan, or in clothing mills, or in lawyer’s offices, or in computer assembly plants, and they are all the same.
Susan Carrigan lives in Manhattan, works in a job she doesn’t particularly love or hate, just got out of a bad relationship, and is tricked by Ananayel (in the form of a bag lady in a coffee shop) into entering a contest where the prize is a free trip to Russia (where another factor awaits, we’ll get to him). She’s another of Westlake’s perky blonde ingenues, which we’ve been seeing so many of lately, and I wouldn’t say they’re all exactly the same, but none of them are going down as his most unique creations, and I kind of wish he hadn’t gotten stuck in that groove, and maybe he did too, at times.
Her significance in the story is both pivotal and peripheral (and in fact she never comes close to finding out what’s going on), but basically it’s the old story–angel falls in love with mortal. Many variations. There was one with Jack Benny once. Well actually he was in love with another angel in that one, but again we see Mr. Westlake taking with both hands from old movies. The point is, the angel can remain detached from the impending death of humanity only so long as he remains detached from humanity itself, and Susan is the great sticking point.
She’s not a very interesting character (a fact much commented upon in the book itself), but you do like her. She’s a certain kind of American that people all over the world look at with a mixture of bewilderment, affection, and perhaps a soupcon of contempt. The ones who always think that something can be done. They don’t know what the world really is, and you’re not sure if you ever want them to know. Somebody has to have hope, right?
Susan reminds me of something I read in a book of photos of feral dogs in the Greek Islands (who are, to my way of thinking, leading an utterly enviable lifestyle)–the way different sets of tourists react to them. The photographer, in his introduction, said that the French find the dogs funny, the Japanese snap endless photos, the Germans think it’s a bit of a scandal they’re running around unsupervised, and the Americans scream “They’re starving!” and run off to buy them food. My people. I’ve lost count of all the foreign ferals from far-flung corners of the globe I’ve met at our local dog run. Sometimes we take strays home with us at the end of a vacation (or a tour of duty). Well, I digress. Well no, I really don’t. That’s what happens to–
Grigor Alexandreyovich Basmyonov:
Was he not, after all, the power behind a television throne? Was he not the author of half the words to come out of Boris Boris’s mouth? Wasn’t he the next best thing to a celebrity; which is to say, a celebrity’s ventriloquist? Be off with you, my man, Grigor thought, I have Romanov blood in my veins. (Hardly).
From the least interesting human to perhaps the most interesting. Grigor was a fireman at Chernobyl during the meltdown. He did his duty bravely, as so many others did, and is dying of cancer, as so many already have. By some quirk of fate (that Ananayel does not take credit for) he met a rising comedian, Boris Boris (not his real name, it’s a joke, and if you’re Russian it’s apparently hilarious), taking advantage of glasnost to do a satirical television series (a Russian Jon Stewart, though maybe closer to Benny Hill in some respects–or Bob Hope?), and he liked Grigor’s understandably morbid sense of humor, hired him on as a writer, and he’s been a great success. Which is fine, except cancer is one thing success doesn’t cure.
He’s a complex brooding sardonic personality, loving his country yet alienated from it, which is why he’s ideal for Ananayel’s purposes, and vulnerable to his method of attack–he arranges for Grigor to meet Susan at a party held at the Savoy Hotel in Moscow, and when she hears her story–do I need to say it? She says he must come back with her to America, she knows doctors, who know other doctors–something can be done. And she’s very pretty and appealing and alive, and interested in him, and he agrees. He has nothing to lose–or does he? Does it ever go well for Russian characters in novels when they leave their motherland? Not in Russian novels, and Westlake is writing in the spirit of that great branch of world literature here.
Sound billowed from the International Room like pungent steam from a country inn’s kitchen. Cocktail party chitchat is the same the world over, bright and encompassing, creating its own environment, separating the world into participants and non-invitees. Cheered suddenly at the idea of being among the blessed this time around, Grigor moved forward into that cloud of noise, which for him was not rejecting but welcoming, and was barely aware of the person at the door who took his invitation and ushered him through the wide archway into a large, high-ceilinged room that had been deliberately restored to remind people as much as possible of the pomp and privilege of the tsars. Gold and white were everywhere, with pouter pigeons of color in the Empire chairs discreetly placed against the walls. Two chandeliers signaled to one another across the room, across the heads of the participants in their drab mufti; not a red uniform in the place. It was as though, Grigor thought, the nobles had permitted the villagers one annual event of their own in the chateau’s grand ballroom.
Was there a joke in that? Well, there was, of course, but was it usable? Now that the proletariat had been shown to have made a mess of things, there was a great embarrassed ambivalence about the aristocratic baby that had been thrown out with 1917’s bathwater. Both Grigor and Boris Boris had been trying for months to fit references to the tsars and their families and their world into the stand-up routines, but everything they’d come up with was too flat, too wishy-washy.
The trouble was, they had no clear attitude to express. Surely no one wanted to go back to rule by a class of people who sincerely believed that peasants and cattle were at parity, and yet…And yet, there was something about the style. Not the substance, the style.
The tsars are still in our throats. We can’t swallow them and we can’t spit them out.
That isn’t funny. That’s merely true.
I think Tolstoy would have been proud to have written that passage. The book as a whole maybe not, but who can say? Leo was writing weirder things than this by the end of his life. And even before that, there was an entire story written from the POV of a horse (quite good, too–livestock have things to say for themselves as well).
And over next to Russia, there’s China–even less free, but in spite of that, the birthplace of a truly free spirit, who goes by the name of–
“The trial would last one day,” Kwan told him. “I would get to say very little. The second day, I would be taken outside and told to kneel. A pistol would be put to the back of my head, and I would be killed. The third day, the government would send my family a bill for the bullet.”
Mortimer’s eyes widened at that. “A bill? You’re kidding me.”
“No, I’m not.”
“But why? For God’s sakes…”
“That’s the family’s punishment,” Kwan explained, “for having brought up a child without the proper discipline.”
Kwan (Li of course is his family name) was one of the people holding bullhorns in Tianamen Square when the tanks rolled in. Remember that? All we here in the west really got out of it was that thing about the two characters signifying ‘crisis’ meaning ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’ when looked at separately. That was very popular at the time. He got a lot less than that. But he’s still in there pitching. I think in many ways he’s the one Westlake admires and identifies with the most–and treats the worst.
Kwan is a libertine for liberty, a trickster with integrity–much like Eugene Raxford in The Spy in the Ointment (who ironically had to contend with a Chinese American secondary villain), and perhaps a few others among his protagonists. Instead of pacifism, his goal is simple Democracy–something we take for granted here. Kwan dreams of somehow overthrowing the ‘Ancient Murderers,’ as he thinks of the ruling class in China, all ruling classes in China, going back for thousands of years. If not overthrowing them, at least giving them one in the eye. Something.
He’s a shameless seducer of women (who find him nigh-irresistible), a sly and humorous person with a great zest for life, but he believes absolutely in what he’s doing–while knowing too well he’s actually done nothing but put his own life in immediate danger. Tricksters don’t tend to do well in totalitarian societies. Even fictional ones. Ask Harlan Ellison’s Harlequin. A trickster needs more room to maneuver than a closed society will ever offer.
He’s managed to make his way to Hong Kong, but with 1997 approaching, even there he has nowhere to run, no safe harbor–the authorities there will hand him back to Beijing if he’s caught. He’s about to be apprehended, betrayed by a naively cynical American journalist in exchange for a story, when Ananayel directly intervenes, gets him onto a luxury liner, working in the kitchen, heading for America, but it all goes wrong when he reaches New York. Ananayel intends for it to go wrong, makes sure of it.
He’s betrayed again and again, and languishing in a detention cell in New York, where the authorities fully intend to send him back to avoid an international incident, he tries to commit suicide (with toothpaste, yet–didn’t even know that was a thing), and by the time he meets the others, he’s a shadow of his former cocksure self, with a damaged esophagus, incapable of even speaking, or eating properly. The point, again, is to crush all sense of hope. To guide him to despair. So he’ll make the intended choice. At least he could take the Ancient Murderers down with him. All of them, not just the ones in Beijing.
Oh, and that thing about the bullet fee? Westlake didn’t invent that. I forced myself to look it up. It happened to this girl’s family. If you feel like it, you can force yourself to read online discussions where people in our great Democratic West cast doubt on it, say it’s not really proven to have happened, just an urban myth, and if it did happen once, it doesn’t anymore (now they have roaming vans that give lethal injections, yay progress!).
Except it’s apparently happening in Iran too. It’s a bit funny, people who accept the reality of the authorities shooting someone in the head for disagreeing with them doubting that they’d humiliate the family just to hammer their point home. Maybe they just charge the bullet fee if the family wants to claim the body. Well, that makes it all better, now doesn’t it? Kind of rooting for Ananayel now. Maybe I’ll feel differently when I get to writing about–
Frowning, Maria Elena said, “The company is Brazilian. Isn’t it?”
“The subsidiary is Brazilian. That’s the company you know about. But the main company is far from here. The stockholders don’t live in Brazil.”
“Where do they live?” I’ll go there, Maria Elena thought. With photos, with statistics. How dare they not be part of what they’ve done? How dare they not even have to lie?
“Where do they live?” The pilot looked down at the copper colored river they would follow for the next quarter hour. “Some in Britain,” he said. “Some in Germany, Italy, Guatemala, Switzerland, Kuwait, Japan. But most in the United States.”
“The United States.”
“The multinational corporation is responsible to no country,” the pilot told her, “but it was an American idea.”
“They couldn’t do this in America. That’s why they come here.”
“Well, of course,” the pilot said, and laughed.
Maria Elena is, I believe, Westlake’s first and perhaps only Brazilian protagonist. She is described as exotically attractive, not thin, and we don’t find out her precise ethnic ancestry, but we can assume she’s a mixture of Portuguese, Indian, and perhaps African ancestry, like most people in that remarkable nation, regardless of color. What we know about her for sure is that she is a person of conscience and determination–and almost unfathomable sadness.
She had been a singer in her youth, a minor star, growing in fame, but she put that aside to marry and have a family–only her rural town was next to a factory that poisoned the earth and the water, and even the children in her womb. Her husband left her, saying she was cursed, and part of her believed that was true. The church offered no comfort. Her environmental activism achieved no results.
And now a pilot, transporting her with the American doctor she works for, tells her that she hasn’t even been directing her efforts in the right direction. The true malefactors are elsewhere, mainly in America. That isn’t a lie. But the pilot himself is–it’s Ananayel. Bringing his players together. Suggesting she only has to marry the doctor, named Jack, who is in lust with her, and he’ll take her back to America with him.
The marriage goes sour when the doctor’s passion fades, and her activism is no more effective there than it was at home. She leads a drab passionless middle class suburban life, with nothing to anchor her. One day a woman who has been having an affair with the doctor comes to the house, and accuses Maria Elena of refusing to give Jack a divorce (it’s the first Maria Elena has heard of it). The woman says she and Jack deserve a chance at happiness.
Maria Elena looks at this deluded creature wearily, as at a spoiled child, and asks what she has ever done to deserve happiness. A question I’m not sure anyone has ever had a good answer to, but if anyone ever did, it’s Maria Elena herself, and look at her. She can’t even sing now–the music isn’t there in her anymore. Everything has been taken away from her, partly by Ananayel and God, but mostly by her fellow humans, by what we have made of this earthly paradise God gave us so long ago. But she somehow soldiers on, waiting for a change to come. All good things, right? Sure.
Westlake was drawing here upon research he’d done for the 1984 short story, Hydra, which I covered in my review of Westlake’s science fiction anthology, Tomorrow’s Crimes. I don’t know when he started research on Russian politics, but of course it was all over the news at this time.
I’m now wondering if his interest in China and Hong Kong predated his agreeing to work on the James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, which he is supposed to have written in 1995. Seems unlikely he’d be doing research for that this far in advance. But really, all over this book, we see his enduring and all-encompassing interest in the world around him, his conviction that Americans ignored what went on beyond their shores at the peril of both their own material welfare and their immortal souls. Hmm, I suppose that is a bit hokey. Mr. Upchurch would be cross with me, no doubt.
You have perhaps noticed that these three humans Ananayel has recruited for God’s plan thus far are not the people you’d think would be chosen to bring about world destruction–each has shown exceptional courage and devotion to the common good. Each is a true member of E. M. Forster’s fabled Aristocracy of the Considerate, the Sensitive, and the Plucky (and indeed there will be a secret understanding between them when they meet).
But that is, in fact, the point of choosing them–that they know, so much better than the average human, what a cruel place this world is, how resistant to change, how entrenched the Ancient Murderers (in all their innumerable forms) truly are. To be hopeless, you need to have had some hope to start with.
And all have been afflicted physically in some way–not for nothing did Job, having lost his family and his fortune, only curse God when Satan (visiting God in heaven, as we are informed the Satan in this story sometimes still does) was given permission to inflict great physical suffering upon him. As long as the body is strong, the spirit can withstand almost any reversal. But the body is fragile, an untrustworthy bastion to fall back upon. It always fails us in the end. Gosh, how did this book ever not make the best-seller lists?
And how did I think I was going to make a one-part review out of this? I’m closing on on six thousand words, and I still have two more characters to talk about before I even move into the wrap-up. Two very different characters than Grigor, Kwan, and Maria Elena, but not entirely different. All human, too human.
So I’ll come up with some images for Part 2 somewhere–it’s hard to search for foreign editions when you don’t know what the title would have been. But I would say the intended audience for this book was not the rest of the world. It was America. And it missed the target, badly. And perhaps that was Mr. Westlake’s failure. And perhaps it was someone else’s. Perhaps there’s blame enough to go around.
And perhaps we could do with a song now.