In this strikingly imaginative and unique exploration of love, psychoanalysis, and male sexuality, the protagonist must struggle with a deteriorating marriage, the loss of his ability to speak English, a philandering doppelganger and incessant fantasies of hooking-up with young women. All of these disorienting conflicts are played out at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, an event heralding China's restoration to its prior position as one of the most powerful nations in the world. On his last day in Beijing, the protagonist must choose between a life of carnal pleasure and love for his wife.
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There's a lot happening in Below the Line in Beijing, as it presents the scenario of a middle-aged man who awakens one morning to an unexpected problem: he has suddenly, overnight, lost the ability to speak. But this isn't all that's happening in his life: he's in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics and is facing, with the help of his psychoanalyst, the deterioration of his marriage and his sexuality. That's a lot to put on anyone's plate - and it's a bit of a surprise that his first impulse would be to visit his psychoanalyst in search of a quick assessment of the cause of his loss of speech, rather than a physician. But the protagonist has reason to believe his problems lie in the mental realm, and his efforts to solve them of necessity involve many hard questions - and so Below the Line in Beijing is as much about an awakening as it is about an ending. Readers of Saul Bellow's literary classics of middle age and diminished powers will quickly appreciate the setting and concerns of this novel. As events unfold and Chinese culture, Olympics spectator customs, and encounters with women evolve, readers are treated not to the middle-age musings of a man facing failures, but to one still contemplating the emotional and disorienting aspects of sex and attraction and his own place in such a world. The action in Below the Line in Beijing is largely internal and observational, but excels in its tone and approach as the narrator makes notes about his experiences in Beijing for future analysis and fosters a relationship with Jim that leads him to make new discoveries about his life and its course. Steeped in the cultural atmosphere of China, the special circumstances of the Olympics, and the unique struggles of an aging man, Below the Line in Beijing is a solid recommendation for any who want a novel packed with the duality of introspection and cultural analysis.