Allen Kurzweil (KURZ-wil) is one of the most critically acclaimed novelists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. In fact, Granta magazine named him one of the best American novelists under forty in 1995, when he had published only one novel, A Case of Curiosities. Other honors include a fellowship at the New York Public Library’s Center for Scholars and Writers and a research fellowship at the John Nicholas Brown Center for the Study of American Civilization at Brown University.
Kurzweil was born in the United States but spent his first five years in Milan, Italy. He was highly influenced by his father, a mechanical engineer who taught Kurzweil about the machines that figure so prominently in his fiction. His father died when young Allen was five, and he and his mother moved back to the United States. His mother then met and married ninety-three-year-old William Phillips, cofounder and then editor-in-chief of Partisan Review, thus exposing Allen to the intellectualism found among his stepfather’s friends and colleagues.
After Kurzweil graduated from Yale University, he became a freelance journalist and traveled the world, writing short nonfiction pieces, which he found restrictive. While on assignment at an Aboriginal settlement in Australia, he met the woman who would become his wife. She encouraged him to give up journalism for fiction writing. Kurzweil threw himself into writing novels with gusto, researching even the most minute detail with relish. He even built some of the contraptions found in his second novel, The Grand Complication, one of which, a mechanized reader, was approved for a patent. Kurzweil cited his obsession with research when asked about the length of time that passed between his two novels.
Kurzweil and his critically lauded novels incorporate a style of writing that belongs more to the past than the present. Kurzweil’s work is critically acclaimed because he presents characters and settings that are unique. The eighteenth century of A Case of Curiosities is one of wonder at mechanical marvels being developed, and the twentieth century of A Grand Complication is one of nostalgia for a time when simple machines were wondrous. The two novels are tenuously connected in that the case of curiosities in the eighteenth century becomes an item that plays a key role in the plot of A Grand Complication. Kurzweil and his wife and son eventually left Australia to settle in Rhode Island.