Everything Solid Has A Shadow (ESHAS) by Michael Antman, Amika Press, (2017), is a beautifully written novel that escapes any pat definition or category of genre. It’s mysterious, but by no means a police procedural. There is in-depth psychological explication, but it’s not a therapeutic roman à clef. To say that it is a piece of magical realism lends a childlike atmospheric intonation that does not capture the intensely in-the-moment quality of the whole. The actual storytelling in the novel is set up by a multitude of precisely enunciated facts that at one and the same time set the stage and are the stage.
The character of the narrator begins this journey exceptionally un-self aware, yet transparently, lovably human. He so obviously and genuinely loves women yet is confessedly insecure around them- you gotta love him. I can see Charlie as I write; tall, spare, smiling shyly as he’s bent over his guitar, crawling into the dormer in his rental home to examine the remnants of a dollhouse. Unabashedly good and kind, he would never believe his thoughtfulness and care for people’s feelings is unusual- but it is! Yet he’s capable of lasciviousness, self-absorption, betrayal. In the course of 271 perfectly crafted pages, he leaves boyhood behind and grows up.
This is a wonderful read- it draws you in from the first moment, both because you care about the hero, and because you want to see what comes next. As the story develops, both of these readers’ motivations become more and more compelling, but you are also seduced by the fine detail, the subtlety of the language, and the absolute romance. What is more, it’s a fiercely intelligent story: a smart man wrote it about a smart man involved in an absorbing, emotionally complex intellectual conundrum of the psyche.
Most books about self-reflection are drably, boringly self-involved; ESHAS never is! As the protagonist experiences the events of his past intermingling with his here-and-now, so does the reader- here are developed a series of revelations of the mind and of the body, a journey toward symbolic and physical self-understanding that is taken together. Just as the human mind can embrace a myriad of motivations, memories, inclinations in tandem with the “real” history and activities of the person, this novel encompasses both the interior and external world of a fully realized human being.
A number of the reviews of ESHAS refer to the “dreamlike quality” of the unfolding narrative: the book’s central focus is, in fact, Charlie’s dreams, and his efforts to understand, manipulate, populate, and infuse them with meaning. Past memories and fragments of conversations and events intrude upon Charlie’s sleep. As the action in Charlie’s “realtime” life slows to a standstill, including his ability to process nourishment, it becomes more and more imperative for him to understand his childhood trauma, see how he has compartmentalized his emotions, and decide what he really needs to be a whole person, even to keep living.
The novel unfolds like an artist’s autobiography- think The Diaries of Anais Nin– a factually complex, richly woven tapestry of entwined people and affairs- of the heart, of parental hearts, of the sexual self, literally of the stuff that makes up a life. Thankfully absent from the sublimely well-timed narrative is an over reliance on therapeutic analysis, or on any one plot device; it takes everybody involved to bring the extremely subtle denouement to fruition.
The book is well worth reading and rereading and this reviewer recommends it highly. It’s not just a modern novel but is a piece of literature that delivers a satisfying resolution- intellectual, visceral and moral. I will read it again, and soon.