The Grand Complication: A Novel Hardcover – 2001
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
Most recent customer reviews
OK, the story line is original (I can't imagine anyone could have come up with it), but totally boring. Read morePublished on Feb. 16 2004 by D. K. Miles
Alexander Short is a librarian. His job is in jeopardy and his marriage is coming apart. He meets a curious figure improbably named Henry James Jesson III, a book-lover who hires... Read morePublished on Nov. 25 2003 by HORAK
a book written with the full use of the english language. words pour out here in a very intriguing way and capture the audience very well. Read morePublished on July 27 2003 by William D. Tompkins
I did love this book. It was very different from most of the good modern fiction that I read (Poisonwood Bible, The Orchid Thief, Balzac and The Little Chinese Seamstress, etc.). Read morePublished on Feb. 28 2003
A decent premise, marred by unsympathetic and not particularly interesting characters, mediocre writing, and a dead-end plot. Other than that, it was OK. Read morePublished on Jan. 23 2003
A suspense novel, this book is full of eccentrics and literary/historical curiosities. Alexander Short is a quirky reference librarian; Henry Jesson is an extremely eccentric,... Read morePublished on Dec 5 2002 by Fanoula Sevastos
Allen Kurzweil has done it again! Quirky characters, grand inventions and, yes, grand complications. Read morePublished on Nov. 7 2002
This is one of my favority books this year. It is a well-crafted book, the writing is superb, and it is fun to read. I learned a lot about worlds I knew nothing about. Read morePublished on Sept. 23 2002