A Special Destiny

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

As this novel beings in 1938, Saul Klein is a young man about to settle into a lifelong rut. He is an up-and-coming salesman by day and an accounting student by night. He lives in the Bronx with his parents, who use him as a messenger in their alternately hot and cold war. From within this mundane existence, he watches Adolf Hitler’s rise to power with a somewhat detached anguish and anger. Soon, however, Saul’s narrowly focused world begins to grow as the result of a chance encounter with a sophisticated German-Jewish refugee, Eugene Strauss.

Gene, as Saul calls him, opens doors and windows that Saul had not even dreamed existed. Also working as a salesman, Gene is determined to be a successful playwright. As he shares his dreams and ambitions with Saul, he introduces him to literature, music, and philosophy and ultimately pushes him into a contest of sorts. As each young man begins to shape his future, their lives move along parallel paths, yet their fortunes diverge in the end.

Epstein’s use of the first-person narrative allows the reader to enter into Saul’s search for his own special destiny. His excitement at his intellectual awakening is presented realistically and sympathetically, as is his inevitable disillusionment when he realizes that he has mythologized Gene, creating a figure larger than life. Through this experience, Saul learns that by attributing special qualities and motives to others and trying to force them into certain roles, we only set ourselves up for disappointment and eventual estrangement.