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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1781

Genesis opens with the provocative claim, “Every woman he dares sleep with bears his child.” Felix “Lix” Dern, a popular actor, age about forty-seven, is fixated on the idea of his fertility. He calls it a curse. The reality is less interesting: He does have five children with a sixth on the way, but they have been born over a period of twenty-six years. During that time he has had affairs with five women, two of whom he married.

Lix, in fact, is not particularly sexually active, except in his nearly continuous fantasies. Two seven-year periods of celibacy seem to suit him quite well, though he quickly skips over these years, as though only sex is relevant. He is timid rather than “daring” in getting lovers (at least four of the five women initiate the relationship), and he is definitely not good at keeping them. Two of them leave him before he even knows they are pregnant.

Lix seldom is in a situation to act as a father, and when he is he has virtually no interaction with his children. On the occasion when one—George, now a young man with a distinctive facial birthmark like his father—shows up to introduce himself, Lix has almost nothing to say to him. Possibly there is a connection between his lack of interest in his actual children and his seemingly great satisfaction in seeing himself as “a teeming alpha male” following his basic animal instinct. An even more likely reason is simply that Lix prefers to see himself as a lover rather than as an essentially lonely loser.

The story is not told in chronological order. The first chapter is labeled “6,” followed by 1 through 5, then another chapter 6. (The novel was published in Great Britain as Six, presumably a reference to his six progeny.) At the beginning of the novel, Lix and his wife Mouetta are sitting in an art cinema watching a matinee. She wishes Lix would speak to her. Lix is wondering when it was that Mouetta became pregnant.

A couple of months earlier Lix had gone to meet Mouetta to celebrate their second wedding anniversary at his favorite restaurant, the Habit Bar, so upscale and expensive that it is nicknamed the Debit Bar. Mouetta is not alone. She is with her cousin Freda. Lix and Freda share an awkward history which includes a son, George, whom Lix has barely met.

Freda has always been a bit of an anarchist rebel. On this evening, she is hiding a student in her office, a young man who is wanted by the police and soldiers who control the city. Freda knows the authorities are looking for her, too, and she wants Lix and Mouetta to keep the student in their apartment. Lix does not want to risk the displeasure of the authorities but agrees to try. The city, unnamed except for its slogan “the City of Kisses,” in a similarly unnamed country, presumably in Eastern Europe, is under some menacing totalitarian control at the time of the novel. Rather than use his recognition as a celebrity to move around the city with enough freedom to get to the young man, Lix deliberately makes sure that does not happen. Bridges and streets are closed, and Lix and Mouetta spend the night in their illegally parked car. That night, after some uncomfortable and not particularly loving or satisfying sex, Mouetta became pregnant.

The following chapter, “1,” is set in 1979. Lix is nearly twenty-one and a virgin. He spends considerable time in his apartment with his binoculars, spying on an older woman who comes regularly to a nearby sidewalk café to meet a man. Lix does not realize that she is aware of his watching her. On a day the man does not appear, the woman goes to a nearby restaurant. She recognizes the boy of the binoculars when Lix happens to walk in. She invites him to her table and then invites herself to his apartment. She does not give Lix her name, nor does he ask. Lix, embarrassed and nervous, has his first sexual encounter, clothes on, followed immediately by his second, clothes off. His first child is conceived, a girl whose mother will call her Bel.

Two years later Lix has his second lover, and this affair lasts not one day but twenty-seven, or perhaps as much as thirty-one. Lix is still a student studying acting; Freda is the swan-necked rebel who needs someone to command. She concocts a plan to kidnap a mega-corporation official to make some political point and picks the smitten Lix as her chief participant. The kidnapping is not successful. Freda, however, makes good on her implied reward of full-penetration sex, very much in control in its performance, the grand finale of their affair. When Lix learns she is pregnant, Freda makes it clear that she will raise her baby without him.

Alicja Lesniak is the central woman in chapters 3 and 4, perhaps because she has two of Lix’s children. Alicja had been part of Freda’s group and the unsuccessful kidnapping plot seven years earlier. Lix has not had sex since his month with Freda, and Alicja has to help him get an erection when she takes him to her bedroom. Alicja’s parents are rich Poles who offer their daughter unlimited financial help, but she sees marriage to a handsome actor as a way to assert her independence. Lix finds her comforting, but it is some time before he feels he is “in love,” and by that time she is beginning to establish herself as a local politician. They have a son, Lech, who is scarcely mentioned.

Lix proceeds with his acting ambitions, sometimes going to the United States to be in Hollywood films. Alicja goes on with her political ambitions, becoming a district senator and starting an affair with a journalist named Jupiter. The marriage is essentially over. At a rare party they attend together, Alicja announces to all present that she has never had an orgasm. She and Lix have sex one last time, as though for her to apologize for her remark or for him to prove her wrong, and she conceives Karol. Their divorce is finalized in 1993.

For the next seven years, Lix is again celibate. He feels relieved to be without the torments of desire, the confusion of love. He tells himself he should forgo sex because he would only beget further children. He worries about his sagging body.

Anita Julius, known as An, is Lix’s fourth lover in another one-night encounter which she initiates. An is the lead actress in a mediocre play, The Devotee, also starring Lix as the leading man. The final scene in the play includes an intimate kiss. On New Year’s Eve, 2000, An decides the acting will become real, and Lix understands he will have sex with her, though he has no wish to become encumbered or even, for example, to see her over a breakfast table. This is the very night Freda has arranged to bring her son George, now eighteen, to the theater to meet his father. Lix is embarrassed and shamed by the unexpected meeting in the lobby after the show and only manages to mumble an inappropriate invitation for George to come with him and meet his two half-brothers, whom Lix will be seeing the next day for a trip to the zoo. There is no handshake, much less a hug. Freda smirks and leads George away.

Lix follows them into the crowded streets, where fireworks are about to start for a celebration the city calls “the true millennium,” 2001, but he cannot catch up to them in the throng. Instead, he returns to the theater, where he and An dress again in their character costumes and go to the now-deserted stage to “complete” the last scene of the play. Thus it is that on the early morning of 01/01/01 An becomes pregnant with a daughter she will name Rosa.

When Lix returns to his apartment, he finds a message from Freda on his answering machine. She will allow George to go with Lix to the zoo but not without a chaperon, her cousin Mouetta. Lix had noticed Mouetta in the lobby even before he saw Freda and the son who looked like him, and she had smiled at him. Freda thus inadvertently had introduced him to the woman who would become his second wife, just as he had met his first wife, Alicja, in Freda’s revolutionary group.

The final chapter, again numbered 6, circles back to the beginning of the novel, with Lix and Mouetta silently watching the film at a local cinema. They go to the Debit Bar afterward, both knowing, with rather guilty relief, that Freda will not be there this time; she has been in jail ever since the night of their anniversary when she pleaded with them to save her student. Lix fears that if he is called to speak up for Freda in court, it will come out that he had notified the militia that she was hiding an activist in her room.

Using a technique worthy of nineteenth century author Charles Dickens, who frequently ends his novels with a summary of what had happened to all the characters, the omniscient narrator briefly describes what Lix’s descendants are doing while Lix and Mouetta are at the Debit. There is a scene for offspring: of Rosa (An’s daughter), of Lech and Karol (Alicja’s sons), of George, Freda’s son, who is flying home from the United States with his pregnant girlfriend to attend his mother’s trial and muses that he will meet Lix again. On the first day of 2001, when he had gone to the zoo, his father had eyes only for Mouetta, not for him. There is even a scene of Bel at twenty-six, who knows quite well from her looks and birthmark exactly who her father is but who has never contacted him out of respect for her adored (still unnamed) mother. Bel now is married and has a daughter of her own named Cade. Her mother is dying, and Bel thinks she soon may have to introduce herself to Lix, as children need grandparents.

The narrative voice presents this summary: “The details of our lives are undramatic, if we’re lucky.” Whether this catchy phrase implies that Lix’s life, or that of any of the characters, is dramatic or undramatic is left unclear, as is much else in the novel.

Review Sources

Booklist 100, no. 4 (October 15, 2003): 388.

Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 16 (August 15, 2003): 1032.

Library Journal 128, no. 14 (September 1, 2003): 204.

The New York Times, November 13, 2003, p. E8.

The New York Times Book Review 153, no. 52676 (November 23, 2003): 8.

Publishers Weekly 250, no. 29 (July 21, 2003): 171.

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