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The Grand Complication


The Grand Complication

If you like snooty people unraveling a mystery, THE GRAND
COMPLICATION just might be your kind of book.

Kurzweil, the author of two novels, has written a charming
kind of book. It has a bit of Indiana Jones in it, if Indiana Jones
was the kind of guy who collected, say, teaspoons and went to gala
gallery openings eating mini crab puffs. It has a bit of "Antiques
Roadshow" in it, if, say, Leigh and Leslie Keno were fictional
characters trying to solve the mystery of who crafted an old Shaker
desk and their only clue was a T scratched in its surface. It has a
bit of Henry James and Oscar Wilde and Jorge Luis Borges in it, if,
say, they wrote a book about stylish reference librarians.

It opens with, "The search began with a library call slip and the
gracious query of an elegant man." It ends with, "All books do have
their fates." In the middle, is a somewhat engaging, somewhat
tedious search for an item that is missing from Henry James Jesson
III's incomplete cabinet of curiosities. This cabinet chronicles
the life of a mysterious 18th century inventor, and it is Alexander
Short's job to unravel its mysteries. Short, a stylish young
reference librarian, knows his stuff when it comes to arcane
interests and immense minutia. Alexander does indeed know his
stuff, but Jesson now tests him in finding the missing piece to the
cabinet, leading Short every which way, trying to find the piece
and, more importantly, the stories behind the piece. The more he
tries to unravel, the tighter the weave gets. Will he find the
piece? Will it matter? And what is Jesson's game? Who is Jesson?
And why is Smart so infatuated with the idea of finding it? And
what of Smart's wife, a troubled woman who is quite accomplished at
making erotic pop-up books?

At times the novel is quite engaging as Smart begins to pull off
the layers of the onion. He finds out what the missing piece is,
where it came from, and how it came up missing. Being a reference
librarian, he knows how to research and do things smartly. At other
times the novel bogs down with the detail Kurzweil is intent on
giving us. "Two days after Jesson told me about his father's
business, I called up the article index of a serials list devoted
to the scrap metal industry. On the flyleaf of a bound set of the
Daily Metal Reporter, I came across a neatly penciled note
indicating that the whole run had come to the library as part of a
donation from the now-defunct Scrap Iron and Steel Institute." And
so it continues.

Fun in places, tedious in places, THE GRAND COMPLICATION is a
pleasant enough amble through interesting objects and interesting

Reviewed by Jonathan Shipley on January 22, 2011

The Grand Complication
by Allen Kurzweil

  • Publication Date: August 21, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 359 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • ISBN-10: 0786885181
  • ISBN-13: 9780786885183