The Novel, Kunzman, the Novel! by Larry Lefkowitz is an in-depth look at the life of an assistant literary critic turned literary critic. The book is rife with cultural references, including poetry, books, movies, and more.
The story follows Kunzman, the assistant to a well-established literary critic named Lieberman. Lieberman dies suddenly, but shortly after the funeral, Lieberman’s wife, Victoria Lieberman, approaches Kunzman with a special proposition. She is beautiful, and in every way different from Kunzman’s ex-wife Nitza. Victoria is tall, Nitza short, Victoria blonde, Nitza brunette, Victoria flirtatious, Nitza a friend. Victoria is a woman who knows what she wants, and she is well adept at using her feminine wiles to get it.
In this case, Victoria wants Kunzman to finish her late husband’s book, which is meant to be his masterpiece. In exchange, she and Kunzman have a romantic affair.
Kunzman bends to her will, despite knowing Victoria does not have his best interests in mind. One of the themes of the story is how Kunzman never speaks his mind, and is easily shaped by others. It started with Lieberman, who often took the credit for Kunzman’s reviews. Those who spend time with Kunzman often describe him as being too much of a writer—he is always looking for analogies to his current situation or the perfect quote for present conversations. As a result, he himself is not all that present, and his life often passes him by.
All the characters in Lefkowitz’s book are interesting, though at times as the reader it felt like Kunzman spent a little too much time comparing literary works to his present situation. The chapters also seemingly randomly switch between third person and first person point of view, though all are focused on Kunzman’s point of view. At first this was a little confusing, and it’s not clear why the book switches. But after a few chapters, you get used to it.
Potential spoiler alert: Kunzman manages to finish Lieberman’s novel, and even allows Victoria to publish it without giving Kunzman any credit. After months of jealousy, tension, and Kunzman feeling constantly compared to Lieberman, Victoria ends their relationship. Unfortunately, though to the reader it was obvious their relationship would not last, it was not as obvious to Kunzman. In the end Kunzman contemplatse his life and what he learned from his experiences with Victoria. It’d be nice to think Kunzman became a stronger, more assertive man who goes on to actually be recognized for his work, but perhaps that story belongs in another book.
Again, all the characters in The Novel, Kunzman, the Novel! are intricate with clear motivations. And even though Kunzman is somewhat of a pushover, it was hard not to root for him and hope that he was rewarded at the end. At times though, it was hard to get to know the characters because the references were so dense. However, for readers who are big fans of pop culture and literary works from all different ages, then this book should be an enjoyable read.