A novel that tells you, in its title no less, that its subject is a writer worthy of a Nobel Prize might seem a bit daunting at first glance. In the first paragraph of Andrew Komarnyckyj’s Ezra Slef: The Next Nobel Laureate in Literature, our narrator, one Humbert Botekin, makes it quite clear that this novel is anything but daunting. Botekin describes an encounter with Slef that the reader understands to be an embarrassing disaster with detached, dead-serious academic aplomb. As a narrator, Botekin is (for the reader) blissfully unaware of his own cluelessness. Komarnyckyj plies his humor with the straightest of faces, and an admirable brevity and verve. Ezra Slef: The Next Nobel Laureate in Literature is both hilarious and page-turning. Komarnyckyj is a masterful entertainer who knows when to rev up the weirdness and how to engage his readers in the shenanigans of losers who see themselves as grand masters.
Botekin tells himself and his readers that he intends to reveal the inner life and workings of Ezra Slef, but is constitutionally unable to do so because he’s so focused on himself. He’s a sort of black hole of ego, and nothing escapes his event horizon. That’s all for the good. Botekin’s own adventures are narrated so unreliably that reading them offers two stories at once; what he is asserting to the readers as having happened, and what instead has clearly transpired. The contrast creates a constant tension that turns the pages to become a twisted, smart and very funny thriller.
Komarnyckyj is well-versed in Postmodernism, and he deploys the trademark techniques – footnotes, invented literary excepts, quotes from imaginary academics, name-dropping – in the service of wicked satire. Beyond the humor, however, he does manage to invest and engage the reader in a great plot. Botekin meets a mysterious stranger, who helps propel his career to new heights, from which he can more effectively engineer his own downfall. Botekin’s personal event horizon becomes for the reader a pair of revealing binoculars. We can see what’s going to happen, and the sweet suspense keeps readers riveted, while the satire and humor make the speedy journey even more enjoyable.
Botekin’s voice in the novel is a marvel of economy. Komarnyckyj plumbs the depths and scales the heights effortlessly. Ezra Slef: The Next Nobel Laureate in Literature is a twisted paradox, a book about blowhards with an almost unbelievably light touch. You’ll have so much fun experiencing the world from behind Botekin’s event horizon, you’ll want to craft one for yourself, or, perhaps, realize that you need not do so.
It is clear from the audio recording that I’m in need of horizon guidance, but don’t let that stop you from downloading my conversation with Andrew Komarnyckyj, or listen via the player below.