Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Executor by Jesse Kellerman Executor
I thought at first that perhaps Jesse Kellerman was the son of Jonathan and Faye, and would produce some excellent mysteries and thrillers, but I'm afraid he writes another genre altogether. My wife read it first and seemed to like it, so I gave him a shot. I have to say it's not exactly my cup of tea, but the writing itself shows major talent.
Kellerman tells the story of Joseph Geist, a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Harvard who is at an impasse in writing his dissertation, and seems to have stalled out in his life, as well. His girlfriend throws him out of her apartment and her life, and he's forced to find a new place to stay. He answers an ad in the student newspaper placed by someone who is looking for a "conversationalist", hoping to make a bit of money for rent.
And so begins his relationship with Alma Spielman, an elderly woman who suffers from neuralgia and loneliness. She was raised in Vienna as a child of a wealthy family, and pays Joseph quite generously to come by her house several times a week to keep her company and talk of philosophy or whatever crosses their minds.  After Joseph encounters problems with the roommates in his new place, Alma invites him to move in to her spare bedroom, and for a time there is a peaceful routine, punctuated by attacks of her illness, which worries Joseph.
Things get more complex when a ne'er-do-well nephew rolls into town and starts pestering Alma for money. Alma raised him as a child, and still loves him, so she's a soft touch when it comes to giving him money for his vices. Joseph resents this, but nothing can be done about it.
However, when Alma passes away suddenly, things get wild rapidly. She leaves the bulk of her estate to Joseph, and that portion which she leaves to the nephew is bound by some very particular conditions that must be fulfilled in order for him to claim it. I won't spoil the ending for you, you'll have to read it yourself if you really want to know, but I will say that the whole thing is very depressing, and not at all what I was expecting.
Kellerman is actually a noted young playwright, and it shows in the intensity of his writing, and the tortured nature of his characters. The protagonist, Joseph Geist, reminded me quite a bit at first of some other classic troubled and self-absorbed characters from authors I'd read, such as The Great Lorenzo from Double Star by Heinlein, and Kenneth Valentine from The Golden Globe by Varley, though his "maturation" process takes a very different twist than those characters.
One quote from the book that I really liked was "...a row of books is more than a compendium of information. It's a map of all the places your mind has been, a group of friends standing silently by to comfort you."

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