Isaac: a modern fable
By Ivan Goldman
The Permanent Press
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
In contemporary Los Angeles we meet Lenny and Ruth, two disenchanted citizens thrown together after Ruth has a disastrous blind date. Lenny works security for a movie mogul while Ruth toils in the underbelly of the academic system. She aspires to become a professor at a prestigious university and have some attention paid to her dissertation on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. On the other hand, Lenny desires to not fall in love. For Lenny, love, like jail time, would be disastrous, because his secret would be revealed. While Ruth reluctantly admits she's an orphan with a troubled past, Lenny refuses to reveal who he really is. This is because Lenny is Isaac, as he eventually admits to Ruth, "Yes, that Isaac."
That Isaac is the Isaac from the Bible. Ivan Goldman's Isaac: a modern fable puts a twist on the Biblical story. After the angel stays Abraham's hand, Isaac is granted eternal life and eternal youth. He becomes a kind of Wandering Jew, witnessing and experiencing history across the earth and over millennia. While contemporary Los Angeles is the primary setting, we read about Lenny's past in 17th century Spain and the Eastern Front during the Second World War. But Lenny doesn't wander for fun and amusement, he travels widely to escape the path of the Beast. The Beast takes the form of a man and is a truly scary character. During the Second World War, the Beast guards a Russian train heading towards the gulags. The crowded cattle car reeks and the faces inside look horrifying in their desperation and agony. On a whim, the Beast throws a nearby child into the cattle car. In another era, he beat a donkey to death with Lenny as an eyewitness, thus earning his nickname.
Ruth and Lenny alternate as narrators, with Lenny trying to avoid the Beast and Ruth dealing with Borges, a wealthy eccentric associated with an academic think tank. Goldman, no relation to screenwriter William Goldman, also makes a small cameo at a cocktail party, regaling Ruth with a story about how Budd Schulberg worked for the OSS and apprehended Leni Riefenstahl. Goldman fills the novel with such witty touches and wry observations about modern life. The novel is also an example of the Permanent Press's expanding its publishing horizon. This is one of their first forays into the speculative fiction genre. The fantasy elements coalesce around Goldman's satiric vision and bon mots. It's a supernatural romance for an intelligent audience, those not wanting to bother with the hysterics of sparkly Mormon vampires.
Out of 10:8.5, or 9.0 for fans of supernatural romance