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edge staff writer


American dreams – ‘The Golden House’

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Rushdie’s latest novel a sharp and engaging epic

There are certain authors for whom every new offering can be considered an event of sorts. These are the writers who have achieved a degree of celebrity that transcends the literary realm and drawn them into a larger swath of the zeitgeist.

Salman Rushdie is one of those writers. He’s not possessed of top-tier writer fame – he doesn’t breathe the rarified air of the Stephen Kings of the world, for instance – but he is someone whose sphere of influence extends beyond the relatively insular world of literary fiction.

His newest book is “The Golden House” (Random House, $28.99), billed as a return to realism for Rushdie, whose recent offerings have been rooted in magic and myth. Of course, there’s plenty of myth-making going on in this new work as well – it’s just the sorts of myths that are inherent to the American experience.

Rene is a young erstwhile filmmaker who lives in “The Gardens,” a sequestered community in Greenwich Village. His world is irrevocably altered on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration, when a mysterious man calling himself Nero Golden moves into the Gardens along with his three adult sons.

Nero is an incredibly rich man, though no one is quite sure just how he came to have so much wealth. He’s a foreigner, though he is vague about his country of origin. His sons are all possessed of classical assumed names just as their father is, though they go by nicknames.

The eldest is Petya, an autistic agoraphobe whose brilliance is tempered by his struggles with brain chemistry and alcoholism. The middle son is Apu, a gifted artist who has managed to carve out a niche for himself in the New York at scene. And the youngest, who goes simply by D, is caught in an existential crisis and dealing with a lack of surety regarding his own identity.

Thrust into the midst of it all is Rene, who is understandably fascinated by these strange new people who have burst into his bubble. Initially, he seeks only to observe the Goldens in an effort to incorporate them into a screenplay. However, it isn’t long before he’s pulled into their orbit, establishing relationships with all three Golden sons while also attracting the gruff and glowering attention of the family’s emotionally distant patriarch and becoming enmeshed in the schemes of Nero’s newest wife. He spends the subsequent years becoming ever closer to the Goldens, a tangential family member of sorts.

When the secrets of the past that the Goldens sought to leave behind begin to once again creep out of the shadows across the ocean and rear up in New York City, some unsavory and savage truths are dragged into the light. And Rene, like it or not, is right in the middle of all of it.

Oh, and as the Golden world threatens to spin itself apart, a gross, coarse NYC developer calling himself the Joker thrusts himself into the presidential race and captures the country’s attention.

Like much of Rushdie’s work, “The Golden House” is dense with cultural references. By dispensing with the magical realism of recent years, he’s able to endow the narrative with a sense of currency that you can’t always elicit by way of the fantastic. Still, even at his most “grounded,” there’s something ethereal and esoteric about Rushdie’s prose; this book is no different.

Part of what makes Rushdie such a joy to read is his ability to navigate between the sublime and the ridiculous. Understated moments of subtlety sit shoulder to shoulder with overt, over the top absurdities … and it all fits together seamlessly. The mechanics of his narrative construction are meticulously maintained and finely tuned; the story moves easily even as the magnitude of the stakes ebbs and flows.

Rene is equal parts cipher and authorial stand-in; his questions reflect both those of the reader and of the writer. And the many Goldens offer opportunities for insight into various aspects of present-day American culture – the nature of big business and the One Percent; relationship dynamics and sexual politics; the fluidity of personal and psychological identity; the necessity and fragility of creativity; the impact and stigma of mental disorders.

Sure, there are a few times when things are perhaps a bit too on-the-nose and occasional references that come off as a little try-hard, but those are decidedly minor quibbles. At its core, “The Golden House” is the kind of immersive, engaging read in which Rushdie specializes.

There’s a reason that Salman Rushdie’s work is celebrated. While this latest offering has its imperfections, the truth is that there are few writers out there with anything resembling his combination of thoughtfulness and talent. “The Golden House” is a sprawling, roiling urban epic – a sharp-eyed observation and interpretation of what it means to be American in the 21st century.


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