The subtitle of Edwards's Twain-indebted debut, written over the course of 30 years, might be "A California Yankee in Doctor Freud's Court." Following a physical assault, Stan "Wheeler" Burden is precipitated into the past1897 Vienna, to be exactfrom 1988 San Francisco. Wheeler has been a teenage baseball star and famed rock 'n' roller, but he's dreamed of Vienna since his prep school days, where his teacher, Arnauld Esterhazy, instilled a love of the city's gilded paradoxes. Vienna of 1897 is indeed hopping: Freud is discovering the Oedipus complex, Mahler is conducting his symphonies, and the mayor, Karl Lueger, is inventing modern, populist anti-Semitismwhich the young Hitler will soon internalize. Making this a true oedipal drama, Wheeler's father and grandparents come to town, too, all at different ages, and with very different agendas. Edwards has great fun with time travel paradoxes and anachronisms, but the real romance in this book is with the period, topped by nostalgia for the old-school American elite, as represented by the we-all-went-to-the-same-prep-school Burdens. This novel ends up a sweet, wistful elegy to the fantastic promise and failed hopes of the 20th century. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
It is 1988, and 47-year-old Wheeler Burden, minding his own business in San Francisco, suddenly finds himself walking along a Viennese street-in 1897. Historical figures including Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, and Gustav Klimt each play roles in Edwards's debut novel, but the main characters are Wheeler's own relatives, strangely collected in a magical time and space. The stellar, low-key narration by Jeff Woodman (An Ideal Husband) helps move along this story, in which fantasy and history combine to create a beautiful snapshot of the beginning of the modern age. Recommended for medium-sized and large fiction collections. [Audio clip available through us.penguingroup.com; the Dutton hc received a starred review, LJ8/08.-Ed.]
A debut novel of oversized ambitions written by a former school headmaster. Edwards plainly dreams no small dreams. He explains in the acknowledgments that this novel has taken him some 30 years to write, though it seems to have its genesis even earlier, in the anything-goes '60s. Or at least that is the setting in which protagonist Wheeler Burden establishes himself as something extraordinary: first as a college baseball pitcher, then as a rock star-veteran of Woodstock, survivor of Altamont, buddy of Buddy Holly, composer of the most famous feel-good anthem of his generation. Yet Burden has walked away (literally) from both the diamond and the bandstand to write a book based on the notebook of his beloved prep-school teacher, followed by a tour that results in Burden's assassination (shades of John Lennon). Somehow (don't ask) death transports Burden to turn-of-the-century Vienna, where most of this novel transpires. Here he encounters his war-hero father, the late Dilly Burden, who attended the same prep school and had the same beloved teacher as Wheeler. Not so coincidentally, that teacher is coming of age in that same 19th-century city. They also meet the notorious anti-Semite who will become Dilly's father and the irresistible woman who will marry him (and with whom Wheeler engages in what is perhaps an incestuous relationship). Wheeler's tale provides fodder for the theories of his analyst, Sigmund Freud, as the plot additionally features cameos by Mark Twain, Gustav Mahler and a very young Adolf Hitler. The burden for the Burdens is to discover whether they have any choice but to let history play itself out as they know it will, a combination of diary and prophecy that Wheelerrecords in the "little book" of the title. That book provides the source material from which his Jewish, pacifist mother crafts this narrative, following instructions that "all of our lives weave together in a fatal and continuous and repeating loop, one not easy to comprehend."Those who demand comprehension will be exasperated, but others willing to suspend disbelief might be enchanted.
What People are saying about this
Selden Edwards's impressive debut novel is richly inventive, woven tightly with incident, and fully engaging. It is also superbly humane and readable
Selden Edwards's The Little Book is a wonderful novel and I think it has a chance to become a famous one. I've never read a novel like it. And I felt like my life was changing forever as I savored its many delights and mysteries.
From the Publisher
"A soaring thing of joy whose only purpose-and I mean this as a compliment-is to delight and entertain."
-Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
"Delightfully mad. . .a thrilling adventure."
-San Francisco Chronicle
"The product of a writer in full command of his gifts."
"A wide-ranging novel of grand ideas. . .a graceful waltz of a book, spinning at times at dizzying speed, but leaving behind a haunting, unforgettable melody."
-New Orleans Times-Picayune
"Back to the Future for the intellectual set."
"Inventive, bracing, poignant and well written. . . it should be at the top of everyone's summer reading list."
"It's hard not to be thoroughly taken with such an approach to both the real and imagined past."
-New York Daily News
-New York Post