A debut that aims to be the great Jewish-American novel
by Adam Levin
$29.00 List Price
Ambition is an attractive quality in a book, and Adam Levin's first novel, The Instructions, is Napoleonically ambitious, a 1,030-page brick wrapped within a metafictional conceit. The book is, supposedly, a 2013 edition of a "scripture" by protagonist Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee. The first half has been translated from English into Hebrew and back into English, retaining, due to its "translingual" immutability, its original wording. This is only one of the miracles attributed to this text and to Gurion, who spends the better part of the book steadfastly insisting that he's not the Jewish Messiah, although he eventually lets on that he wouldn't mind if he were. Did I mention that Gurion is brilliant, psychotic, deeply charismatic, and ten years old? He is. Also, he's half-Ethiopian. ("Really?" his girlfriend says. "You don't look Ethiopian.") And almost the whole thing takes place over four days in November 2006. Take that, Infinite Jest.
As is often the case with first novels, The Instructions owes some substantial debts to its forefathers: Its DNA includes a little bit of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Saul Bellow and Helen DeWitt's The Last Samurai, a bit more of Thomas Pynchon (characters are named Ben-Wa Wolf, Ronrico Asparagus, Jelly Rothstein), a bunch of J. D. Salinger's Seymour Glass stories (especially "Hapworth 16, 1924"), a hell of a lot of David Foster Wallace (whose signature "and but" construction even shows up a few times), and massive quantities of Philip Roth, whose trophy for Great American Jewish Novelist Levin practically tries to wrest away.