THE EXILE is a deliciously improbable yarn that moves from the pools and gardens of Hollywood in the 1980’s to the terror and paranoia of Nazi Germany during the war. The reader is never quite sure whether the action is real or simply taking place in the mind of David Caspian, a successful screen star. At the oddest times, Caspian seems to slip into a kind of fourth dimension to become Felix, a black marketeer and sometime actor in Berlin just before the demise of Adolf Hitler.
Caspian has just started a new film, and he is turning in the performance of a lifetime, except that it seems to be Felix who is doing the acting. Caspian is now Felix and vice versa--two separate people seem occasionally to exchange places in history. It is all a little confusing at first, but soon the reader is trying to guess at what point in the story Caspian is going to cross over and become Felix permanently.
Kotzwinkle has a good eye for detail, and the German settings of THE EXILE have a marvelous Brechtian quality about them as he takes us into the underground world of pickpockets, con artists, and dance halls, all overlaid with the somber despair of Hitler’s Germany. This is nicely juxtaposed with the rest of the book, set in Hollywood. There, life is all repartee, wit, and soft light: a world filled with greedy agents, character actors, and studio executives--all drawn with a sure and delightfully wicked pen. Kotzwinkle seems to know this territory well.
The problem with the story starts to escalate, though, and, in the end, one wonders why, if this is a tale of a man “lost in a crack in time,” the author has chosen such a peculiarly chronological narrative for his story. Is it possible that there is a film deal pending?