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Roger Leatherwood Brown
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Very much similar to the author's previous "Cockpit," this book also follows an East European figure of uncertain employ and motivation, as he gets involved in jetsetters, seems to commit crimes of a political nature and suggests he is an undercover agent working for larger and unknown political forces, although he is presented as an "international investor."
He seems to invest in people's desires to court chance and fate, and wanders from incident to incident. The book is filled with a seemingly random series of crimes, sexual liaisons, and intrigue. Many of them to hinge upon unforeseen results such as when improves the speech text of the wife of a foreign official in order to have political prisoners released, only to find that the speechwriter was tortured and placed in solitary confinement afterward. He befriends a promiscuous divorcee in a small town filled with resentful small-town people and then is forced to stay to testify of her infidelity when he is threatened to be framed for a murder. His baggage delays a visit to LA and he misses being at the scene of a crime in which he likely would have been killed as well. He commits murder a couple times in the book, and they are of a political nature, including a rigged ski lift in which he barely feels the affects moments after they die, and later kills a NY clerk who is taping traveling diplomats with a sword and hammer in a bathhouse. He gets away without a second thought, saying the memories are like "old Polaroid snapshots; no negative, photographer unknown, camera thrown away."
Yet he shows compassion for the many women he meets, testing the relationships as to who depends upon who, who is "in charge" emotionally or financially. He meets women he thought he knew after many years, and becomes obsessed with women he can never know. In one case she refuses to reveal anything about herself to him (Serena) which he agrees to, relying on chance when she will or will not call on him.
Unlike "Cockpit" however the character of George Levanter is not in complete control of his surroundings or actions. He is constantly surprised by what transpires out of his control, and for every "success" at doing something, whether legal or a sexual conquest, the people around him surprise or disappoint him. The meetings are random and unpredictable, like "blind dates" he says.
The book seems to circle around the concept of pre-determination without finally stating or exploring it beyond a series of well-written and fascinating contrasting experiences, barely connected. He seems to barely learn anything, simply experience.
The tone is pure Kosinski, with sharp and minimalist writing but with great detail, a smattering of violence and sex and a determined reluctance to inner monologs. Also, this book seems to foreground the shifting identity of Kosinski's fiction, and his role within it. The famous philosopher Jacques Monod (who was a friend of JK) appears here, at a scene at Cannes, where Kosinski apparently was with him. There is also a barely fictionalized version of the Sharon Tate murders and the incident in which Kosinski claimed he would have been there but his luggage went missing for a day and he was delayed in NY. There is also many scenes on Swiss ski slopes where Kosinski was known to spend a lot of time as well as a marriage by the lead character (Levanter) of a very rich heiress who proceeds to get sick and die, similar to Kosinski's first marriage, bringing up a discussion of whether a man of low means should be supported or "kept" by his rich wife. (This was apparently very much a topic in Kosinski's life and a version of this dilemma occurs earlier in the book with another couple as well.)
What happened to Kosinski and what's happening to the characters is always a shifting question in his work. What is fiction and what actually happened?
The book is also obsessed with identity. There is a certain amount of lip service paid to whether he is defining himself by what he tries to do or how people treat him, whether he is in charge of his own fate, or the girl is, whether he can predict outcomes of violent or politically motivated incidents, or if he must try to enjoy what happens to him without asking questions.
He does not ask many questions. The shifts from violent murders to sexual conquests to explorations of class in jet-set European settings builds a compelling thematic read that does not seem able (or even willing) to resolve its concerns. It is finally a looser, troubling, fascinating piece that advances the (well-written) excesses of "Cockpit" to actually question why things happen and how much or if it matters.