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The Grand Complication: A Novel Hardcover – 2001


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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: New York, NY: Theia (Hyperion); 1st Edition edition (2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786866039
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786866038
  • Product Dimensions: 17.1 x 3.2 x 24.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 703 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,066,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
THE SEARCH BEGAN with a library call slip and the gracious query of an elegant man. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

By James Hiller on April 4 2004
Format: Paperback
A beautiful pocket watch. A mad librarian. An antiquated old man. All of this adds up to a most delightful, enchanting read in Allen Kurzwell's "A Grand Complication".
Literally, I learned of this book yesterday in an e-mail I received from another source. Piquing my interest, I purchased a copy on a whim, and sat down to devour this deliciously juicy story. Part mystery, part literary banter, part biography, this book brings us reference librarian Alexander Short, who is short on his marriage, his job, and his obsessive note taking. Approached in the first chapter by Henry James Jesson III, who asks for his help in solving a personal mystery, Short becomes a Burt Ward to the older man's Bruce Wayne as they puzzle out the reason for an empty cupboard in a cabinet of wonders.
This story is brisk, engaging, and entertaining. Literally filled with literary puns and some literary references that I didn't understand, the story moves along in a very bright way. I was fascinated by Alexander Short. He's both brilliant and somewhat manic, and somehow really, truly understood him. Mid in the book, he gets a phrase stuck in his head that is stuck in mine as well, "Santo Domingo, Caracas, Miami, Divorce". Rich.
Rarely do I find a book that captures me so and refuses to be put down, but "A Grand Complication" does just that. By the time you hit the final page, you'll be sad that this rich tale is over.
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Format: Paperback
Alexander Short, the hero of this pretentious yarn, is a reference librarian who has written "Slips of Love", a book featuring the use of call slips used to endear himself to his future wife. Into his library steps Henry James Jesson III, a rich old eccentric with archaic mannerisms. He's got a glass cabinet stocked with the innovations of an 18th century inventor; the set is complete except for what turns out to be a missing watch reputedly made for Marie Antoinette.
Jesson invites Short to his posh Manhattan townhouse, which has more secret panels and hidden gadgetry than either Bruce Wayne's stately manor or the Bat Cave. In short order (get it? Short? Kurzweil will never let slip ... get it? Call slips? ... a stupid joke without the verbal equivalent of an elbow in your ribs). Anyway, the dynamic duo get to work trackng down the whereabouts of the the royal Rolex of its day.
Unfortunately, the "Grand Complication" is neither; it is cartoonish and facile. I slogged through the last 100 pages only to see if the ending was as bad as it was cracked up to be. In fact, it is worse. Much. If you have started the book already, just put it down and pick up something by Henry James or Dickens or George Eliot since it is apparently the Victorian author Kurzweil was straining to emulate. The result is a precious, unbelievably stilted style. Jesson, for example, says things like "My missteps would only poison the purity of your investigation." Poison the purity? Even bad Victorian writers wouldn't come up with that. And then there is "A faithful record of your efforts will be more than enough to animate my cloistered world.
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Format: Hardcover
Alexander Short is the main character of this book and reminds you of that one strange friend of yours that just gets very caught up in the weirdest things. The funny thing about this book is that you want it to be good and you want to like the characters but Kurzweil makes that a little difficult. The idea of the story is quite intriguing and as it unfolds you'll be amazed at all the intricate details and how it comes together. The problem is that by the end you don't want things to come out so . . . normal. The book is so fanciful in ideals and even the mechanics with which the plot unfurls itself that the end should be just as fanciful. Lets face it. If you can make it through the details and craziness of the first 359 pages, why change styles on the 360th? But don't get me wrong, these are just my problems with the book. Its still fabulous and an easy read most of the time. It might be a tad far-fetched but for a mystery or even a flat-out book lover, I think you'll be able to suspend your disbelief.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a book-lover's book. It's for people who read obsessively, who buy up 10-cent paperbacks at flea markets, who haunt library discard sales, who can't venture inside a library or bookstore without somehow acquiring a few finds. It's also a book for thinkers, people who enjoy complication and subtlety and minutaie.
The plot concerns a librarian, Alexander, who is drawn into an old man's search for a famous antique timepiece. It explores the nitpicky politics of his job, his polar relationship with his wife, and his personal dreams and the fears the prevent him from realizing them. It also comments on the nature of friendship and betrayal, the importance of searching over finding, and the nuances of a language and a world that can often hide within its own crevices. All of this is contained in an even 360 pages, at the end of which the book has wound mysteriously back to its opening.
There are flaws, however. The author, while skilled in the crafting of plot and the intricacies of pun and puzzle, has no particular gift for linguistic beauty. The writing is congenial, but its aesthetic neutrality is glaring, especially given the subject matter and the high quality of the rest of the book. Passages that could be devastating with the appropriate word or phrase are instead merely interesting. The story's ending, which could be powerful and memorable, is instead satisfying. It's still good, and still very much worth reading, but the lack is sometimes keenly felt.
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