introducing readers to writers since 1995

May 10, 2005

Guest Author: Joy Nicholson

by Ron Hogan

nicholson.jpgI met Joy Nicholson eight years ago when she had just published her first novel, The Tribes of Palos Verde. We got back into touch a few months back, which is how I found out she'd spent a couple years in Mexico with her husband, where she'd first started working on The Road to Esmeralda, which should be showing up in your bookstore any day now. I'm looking forward to reading it--but before I do that, I guess I'll be taking her recommendation about a book that shares some of her interest in the complicated paths Americans' lives can take when they search for meaning abroad...

The Word on And the Word Was
by Joy Nicholson

One of the most beautiful things in the world is finding a great book purely by chance. For instance, you happen to be in a bookstore buying a coffee table book on Egypt for your boss's birthday, when an Ed Ruscha-esque title font catches your eye. And The Word Was, purrs the title, by Bruce Bauman. It's right there on the new fiction rack.

You pick it up, intrigued, annoyed by the biblical phrase. And The Word Was seems to be about god, godlessness, quantum physics, hope, escape, fucking, New York, India, a Columbine-style massacre. You read a few sentences--and then a few more. Uh, oh--your eye catches this gravelly sentence, spoken by a Holocaust survivor, "People like you don't want to believe that I wasn't a sweet-souled mensch before Auschwitz, or a nice boychik after." You can tell this book is not going to be like other (politically correct) literary fiction books.

Of course you can't afford a gift and a new hardback novel, but, well, you don't like your boss much, and besides, you are a bookaholic. You go home. You devour the novel.

Oh, my God. My God.

wordwas.jpgAt the end of the book, you cry. It's 4 a.m. You've been wrenched through the simply stated emotions of a man losing his child to a random act of malice. A man trying to find meaning in cruelty and chaos. A man trying to be alive and hopeful in a human morass, a man at war with God and modern philosophy, yet, a man who still enjoys Moghul chicken, playing tennis, getting blow jobs. By the end of the night you've seeped into the consciousness of Dr. Neil Downs, accompanying him from Brooklyn, through Dachau, to Delhi; from moral detachment, to tingling engagement; from sadness, to hindi-hipness, to hopeful atheism.

You've met his erstwhile mentor, Levi Furstenblum, a survivor and deconstructor of the Holocaust, a man who wears his world weariness like a second skin, a compelling character who deposits cold, hard truths without even a flinch.

And, yet, for all the death, for all the truth, the book isn't grim. It's all been written so lightly, so engagingly.

A hopeful atheist yourself, you wonder out loud at the elegance of the writer's task. It's a triumph because this book isn't simple. It's just written as if it were.

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