Russell Hoban is an acclaimed author of juvenile and adult fiction who garnered considerable popular and critical attention for his novel Riddley Walker (1980), a science-fiction vision of an apocalypse that leaves the world and language fractured and nearly unrecognizable. Hoban specializes in creating worlds that parallel, but never duplicate, those most readers would recognize. His works typically involve fantastic elements and involve surreal juxtapositions and extraordinary developments. His five novels since 2001 feature characters who appear and reappear, creating a fictional cycle that continues to evolve.
Linger Awhile extends the reach of his fertile and fantastic imagination. Instead of locating action in some far-distant time, as in Riddley Walker, he sets his characters in contemporary London, though he allows them technologies and abilities that exceed current practice. Twenty-seven years after Irving Goodman’s beloved wife, Charlotte, dies, the eighty-three-year-old man falls in love once more, this time with Justine Trimble, an actress dead for forty-seven years.
A mutual friend suggests that Goodman visit Istvan Fallok, owner of Hermes Soundways, to seek technical advice that seems utterly absurd. Goodman implores Fallok to use all of his technical skills to revive Trimble from the grave through a process of isolating an image from one of her films on photo paper and dipping it into a emulsion of frog DNA that ultimately animates the image and produces a life-sized version of the actress. However, she is a denatured creature, entirely monochromatic and nearly insubstantial until given an infusion of blood. Once fully Technicolored, she exhibits a voracious sex drive until the need for more blood arises.
Fallok, like Goodman, also falls in love with her and begins ignoring his business and his lover, Grace Kowalski. Goodman’s inquiries about the procedure go unanswered, as Fallok becomes more obsessed and Trimble evolves into a vampire, accosting people at night and consuming their blood. A third figure, Chauncey Lim, owner of a photographic novelty store who advises Fallok on key details of the animation procedure, also falls for Trimble and steals her away from Fallok. Lim has his own mad sexual romp, replete with more homicides and a stratagem to hide Trimble from the police investigating the murders.
A second love story develops as Goodman, searching for Fallok, meets Kowalski, and the two spend time with one another. The attraction is as much sexual as it is alcoholic, and they both enjoy endless bottles of vodka and the songs of Johnny Cash. Grace seeks revenge for her rejection by Fallok and provokes the creation of a second Trimble, Justine 2, who also sets about acquiring blood and kills Fallok, who mistakes her for the first Justine. After Lim and Goodman meet their deaths, Kowalski becomes an avenging angel and dispatches the second Justine back to her celluloid origins.
Although Hoban is an original, his works remind readers often of magical realists. Like many such writers, he appears to reject the notion that the novel’s obligation is to mirror extraliterary reality. There is, nevertheless, a recognizable surface reality in this novel, in this case conveyed though all the specific details about London locations and various streets and neighborhoods. However, amid the recognizable minutiae there are businesses like Elijah’s Lucky Dragon, a restaurant named after the Old Testament prophet that specializes in Chinese-Jewish cuisine, such as latkes Xing-jiang with sour cream or matzo balls made of Yanzheng ingredients. Furthermore, it is believable that men in their sixties and eighties, as are Fallok and Goodman, could still have healthy libidos, but it strains credulity to think they could actually fall in love with a celluloid image, much less create life from it.
The emulsion in which they mix the frog DNA and ultimately animate the...
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