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More things in Heaven and Earth – ‘The King of Infinite Space’

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What prompts people to reimagine a masterpiece?

Take the works of Shakespeare, for instance – for years, writers have been digging into the Bard and offering different takes on those classic tales. Sure, it makes a degree of sense; there’s a universality to Shakespeare’s plays, after all. If there weren’t, they would have long since faded into history rather than become a cornerstone of the Western canon.

But, you know – it’s Shakespeare. If you’re going to fiddle with greatness, there’s not much room for error. When your template is one of the great works of literature, you’d best come correct. I should note that I say this as someone who adores this sort of reimagining … so long as it’s done well.

Lyndsay Faye has done it well.

Her new book “The King of Infinite Space” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $27) is a marvelous exploration of “Hamlet,” a thoughtful, inclusive and provocative interpretation of the tale. Modern and magical, it’s equal parts thriller and love story, built on a foundation of the classic work while also freely and gleefully embracing its own uniqueness. Like so many of the best reinterpretations, the original is still there, but deeply changed; the core of the tale, the spirit that makes it so great, remains, even as the narrative structure around it becomes something new.

Benjamin Dane is a brilliant young man, a scholar of the philosophy of physics. The power of his mind is such as to have its own gravity, drawing people closer to him even as he only allows a select few to truly enter his orbit.

He is also grieving. His father Jackson Dane is dead by overdose; it is unclear whether the OD was accidental or on purpose. The elder Dane was staggeringly wealthy, courtesy of Texas oil, but he sought to conquer another realm entirely – Broadway. Jackson Dane’s World’s Stage Theatre is a place for challenging work; even as financial struggles mounted, Dane insisted on the theatre paying its own way without the aid of Dane family money.

Benjamin’s mother Trudy has rather suddenly taken up with her late husband’s brother Claude; the two have already been wed, albeit in secret to avoid the potential scandal their quick turnaround might generate.

Lost in his own head, Benjamin reaches out to the one true friend he has. Horatio Ramesh Patel has been living in London since a falling out from when the two were roommates, but he remains deeply devoted to – and perhaps in love with – his friend. Horatio rushes to Benjamin’s side in an effort to help him through this trying time.

Meanwhile, Benjamin’s ex-fiancee Lia is working through her own issues, including a drinking problem that contributed mightily to the end of her relationship. She lives above a flower shop, serving as an assistant to the three strange women who run it; suffice it to say, the bouquets provided by this trio are unique.

When evidence arises that causes Benjamin to question the narrative of his father’s death, he enlists Horatio’s help in an effort to get to the truth … whatever that truth might be. There are plenty of secrets in the shadows – secrets that desperately want not to be revealed. Meanwhile, Benjamin’s also in conversation with Lia, albeit only in his (and her?) dreams. All of it together leaves him confused, frustrated and paranoid, struggling to maintain a grasp on reality even with the steady, calming presence of Horatio by his side.

“The King of Infinite Space” is precisely what I hoped for. Tackling the Bard – particularly one of the big ones – is a delicate task; for it to truly work, the author must create something altogether new while also holding onto the fundamental greatness of the source. Faye does that beautifully, giving us a compelling and haunting story that captures that spirit while also being entirely its own.

The most incredible thing – at least to my mind – is that you don’t even need to know “Hamlet” to engage with and enjoy this book. Yes, there are plenty of references and allusions that will light up the Shakespearean synapses, but even those without that perspective will still experience a book that is mysterious and magical, driven by love and fear and introspection.

“The King of Infinite Space” is still the story of our central scion, but in Faye’s hands it becomes a story about others as well. The agency granted to Horatio and especially Lia allows for this new narrative to branch off into something broader. Rather than staying constantly focused on the melancholy Dane, we get to experience the interiority of those close to him as well. That added perspective only serves to enhance the characterization of all involved; a rising tide that raises all boats.

I assumed I would like this book – my affection for this sort of work is well-documented – but I had little inkling of just how much. This is the modern, thoughtful, queer, feminist literary take on “Hamlet” that I didn’t know I wanted until I had it. Lyndsay Faye has crafted something wonderful with “The King of Infinite Space” – to read or not to read isn’t even a question.

Read.

Last modified on Wednesday, 11 August 2021 07:20

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