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Series No.: 142
ISBN: 9781931243827, Pages: 592
American Literature, Fiction
In his first novel since the acclaimed and award-winning Swanny's Ways, Steve Katz takes another look at the failure of Humanism in the West, through the lens of the great Sicilian master, Antonello da Messina. A father and son, who have never met, both set out on quests for meaning in their lives. The father is obsessed with Antonello, and convinced he can find what he thinks is a lost painting of St. Francis. He gets lost on the way, and disappears. The son becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to the father, and his discoveries are more than he can absorb. This is a double picaresque that takes turns through fantasy, sexual follies, and wild historical and philosophical speculations. The frail positionings of order in art are played against the background contemporary chaos.
INCORPORATING WRITING, V, No. 3 (2006)
by G. P. Kennedy
After being trapped into impregnating his lesbian artist
girlfriend, Solomon, a New York Jewish art historian, heads to Sicily to track
down a lost masterpiece of St. Francis of Assisi by Antonello da Messina.
Thirty-seven years later, in the summer of 2001, Nathan, the son he never knew,
begins a similar quest, less interested in the artwork using it only as a means
to retrace his father's footsteps. What transpires is a double picaresque
written with occasional flair and a not insignificant degree of
humour whose denouement offers the tired and testing 'more than they bargined
Imagine if you will that Dan Brown sets himself the challenge of an A.S. Byatt novel but that
he cannot wrest himself from his art sleuth oeuvre. Throw in some Marquezian
magic realism and Humanist theory and there you have it.
The result, you
might reasonably imagine, would be a ham-fisted capanata of styles. Thus is Antellello's
Lion. Whilst Katz will engage you with sopra-authorataive
Italian vistas and mouth-watering piscatorial feasts, his appalling use of
metaphor and simile may leave you shy of ever again indulging in buffalo
mozzarella. Literature does not deserve to have foisted upon it such
formaggio-laden stylings as, 'Anger lay on his heart like a shroud' and
pecorino-laced musings like 'Had he forgotten what she looked like? Had she
just been part of a dream?'
The real issue
with this book is the epilogue, PSSST!
Katz indulges in an extended essay on 9/11 and its cataclysmic effects on the
American psyche. Indeed Nathan is so perturbed after his atypically heroic rescue
efforts during the 9/11 attacks that he moves to Colorado forthwith.
argues that 9/11 represents the ultimate manifestation of the failure of
Humanism, tacitly justifying the lurch to jingoistic and xenophobic insularity
in the States since 2001. In so doing he employs the most crass sentimentalism,
referring to New York as, 'the greatest experiment in pluralism ever known to
the world', and the perpetrators of 9/11 as, 'those self-righteous maniacs who would see only the one narrow path to
the dogma they call truth'.
Ultimately Antenello's Lion fails to 'not easily
leave the mind', as Katz wishes, leaving only an intaglio of a good yarn marred
by the author's fetishism.
AMERICAN BOOK REVIEW (2011)
by Steven Wingate
In Antonello's Lion, the "perpetual wonder at what he sees and feels and can imagine" mentioned by Bamberger is enriched by the dual minds through which Katz-as-author lets us see the world. But both Solomon's and Nathan's minds, thanks to their picaresques, offer far more than two perspectives; through their travels, Katz paints us a precise and layered portrait of the world. In this respect, the mapmaker Ellis Prefontaine provides another glimpse into the core of the novel. Enshrined in the massive motel-like Colorado mountain compound that Nathan's financial advice has allowed a friend to afford is
"...the great Prefontaine cyberglobe, endless modes available with the touch of a remote stylus, so it could feature cities and roads, both day and nightscape...a projection of the distribution of world religions;...the migrations of tribes, so you could watch the armies of Saracens, Visigoths, Mongols sweep through."
In this sense, there is no better description of the experience of reading Antonello's Lion than the metaphor Katz himself offers here. Thick with the fervent confusion of human identity and the conundrumy brew of our created world, the novel offers many rewards—especially for readers willing to wade on the shore a moment, letting the waves tickle their feet, before its undertow pulls them in.