Review

The Executor

by Jesse Kellerman

Jesse Kellerman has been on my personal “must read”
list ever since the publication of SUNSTROKE, his first novel. Each
of his books has been unconnected to the others, holding their
authorship and quality in common. His characters are people we
know, in places with which many of us are familiar, who turn their
lives sideways and upside down --- sometimes dramatically, other
times by incremental and quietly tragic degrees. THE EXECUTOR,
Kellerman’s latest work, is a fine and unforgettable example
of the latter.

THE EXECUTOR is told through the voice of Joseph Geist, a
perpetual student for whom life has reached a tipping point. Geist,
who has been pursuing a doctoral in Philosophy at Harvard, has been
working on his dissertation for far too long --- not by
writer’s block but rather by his polar opposite. His faculty
advisor, glee not entirely suppressed, suspends his active faculty
status. At the same time, his live-in girlfriend gives him the
boot. Geist is couch-surfing around the Cambridge area when in
desperation he answers an ad from someone seeking a
“conversationalist.” The person who placed the ad is a
fascinating octogenarian named Alma Spielmann, an enchanting,
intelligent and extremely wealthy woman who lives by herself in a
house filled with antiques, not the least of which include an
amazing library. Geist and Spielmann take to each other almost
immediately, and he is soon being paid well for what consists of a
daily two-hour conversation and some very light cooking duties.

It’s not long at all before he is invited to move in with
her, at which point things become extremely interesting. Spielmann
has a ne’er-do-well nephew who appears at regular intervals
with his hand out, a situation in which she seems willing if not
entirely comfortable. Geist becomes protective of his employer, and
the plot takes a sudden, dramatic and tragic turn. He finds that,
perhaps for the first time in his life, he has the power to control
his own destiny, with unexpected results.

Kellerman’s narrative does not merely concern itself with
present-day events. The reader gets to live in Geist’s head,
a residence that provides a trip into his past, which is not at all
pretty. Given Geist’s self-identification as
student-philosopher, much time in the book is devoted to the
argument over whether human beings have free will or are
predetermined to act as they will by forces external and internal
over which they are basically helpless. There really aren’t
any answers provided here, although a heavy dosage of irony is
present. Not to give anything away, but Geist’s ability to
think and speak always tend to desert him just when he needs them
most, with disastrous results. He may be intelligent, but, as is
the case more often than not with the self-styled
intelligentsia, he has no clue how to function in the real
world.

THE EXECUTOR is a deep and dark work that eschews violence
(though not entirely) for mental torment and a probe into the
psyche of a quietly disturbed soul whose wires are not so much
crossed as unconnected. Kellerman, as has been the case since he
was first published, continues to meet and exceed his own
benchmarks, even as each of his books stand uniquely on their
own.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011

The Executor
by Jesse Kellerman

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult
  • ISBN-10: 039915647X
  • ISBN-13: 9780399156472