Any review of Lee Klein’s intricately layered debut novel The Shimmering Go-Between (Atticus Books, 2014) will be an exercise in restraint. The publisher, you see, has requested that reviewers avoid spoilers. Well, apart from giggling for 700 words, I’m not sure how I’ll pull off a spoiler-free introduction of this surprising, and surprisingly believable, story—but here we go . . .
On one of its many levels The Shimmering Go-Between is a love story: love between a man and a woman, a man and himself, the outer man and the inner man, the big man and the little woman or rather women in this case. And then there’s Brad Pitt.
Before you dive into this story—and I’d suggest doing this from a hot air balloon without a parachute—it may (not) help to reread Little Women, rent Beetlejuice and perhaps purchase some grooming products for your beard. This is very much a beardy story, and you’ll probably want to give yours a good scrub when it’s all over. It gets messy.
While this daring narrative begins with Dolores, a remarkably and immaculately fertile character, the story is ultimately overtaken by beardy-man Wilson, whose search for love within and beyond himself can only be described as all-consuming. His approach to love involves mainly putting things in his mouth. The consumption-as-love theme cannot be stressed enough here, and then there’s Brad Pitt.
On yet another level, this story is also very much about The Woman: woman as drug, aphrodisiac, innocent, object, pet and, for lack of a better word, snack. Yes, snack. But also as Goddess, Supreme Mother and doughy office worker. The whole SHEbang, if you will. While I’m sure a few feminists will want to buy some grooming products for their hackles, the motif of The Woman here as (see all the above) is at the center of a bigger picture: the cycle of life—slightly revised.
The Shimmering Go-Between manages to reorganize the landscapes of conception, birth, death, Heaven and New Jersey. If we created a diorama of the cycle of life so prominent in this book, we’d see The Woman as gushing spring, as prolific creator, but we’d also see The Man as kangaroo-like father and gatekeeper of Heaven and Hell. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say it all breaks loose. The first few pages of the book let you know that anything goes in this narrative.
The novel’s title, taken from a Nabokov quote, gives us some insight into what Klein is doing here: “Between the wolf in the tall grass and the wolf in the tall tale, there is a shimmering go-between.” The “go-between” is the art of literature or the place where belief and disbelief overlap. Being asked to believe the unbelievable, in the words of Wilson, is “like being told you’re a werewolf when you’ve never once awoken with a mouthful of chicken feathers.” It’s almost like being told you can Wile E. Cyote to the bottom of the canyon, hit the ground at 100 mph and crawl out of the Wile E.-shaped crater with only the slightest of headaches. Klein leads the reader to a ledge of unbelievability and dares the reader to believe. Isn’t this exactly what magic realism should do? Klein does it so well . . . and then he pushes you off that ledge. Giggling.
The Shimmering Go-Between is also a story about a man’s struggle to find a place for the wreckage of his life. There are rumblings—mistakes made, codes ignored, good intentions—in these pages. There are mountains to be moved. There is Brad Pitt. There is the rose-scented air of “pure fragrant thought” and a looming foulness—in essence the battle between chaos and order, but also the hope of reshaping, reordering and recycling life. To tell you any more would be to spoil it.
About the reviewer:
Christopher Allen’s book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming at PANK, The Lit Pub, Metazen and Books at Fictionaut. Read his fiction in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly’s Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine and many more. A former finalist at Glimmer Train, Allen is also a multiple nominee for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize.