The Magazine

Death in Turin

Unraveling the mystery of a German novelist in Italy.

Mar 17, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 26 • By EDITH ALSTON
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

In a suave and stately careen between hermetic memories of Rudolf and the predatory interests of the three women, the narrator also recalls his recent communications with his friend, consisting mostly of long-distance phone calls Rudolf made during his lecture tours, in-between delivering the same paper under various titles that he'd been delivering for years. In the small hours of the night, the writer would describe his crotchety struggle to beat the odds of perceiving his own work as reduced to "'a boneyard of trivialities.'"

Increasingly Rudolf had become a joyless gambler, resorting to all sorts of new tricks to outsmart the fate that had dealt him a losing hand, to beat the impossible odds against his being able to complete his Testament.

Events, meanwhile, grow increasingly haphazard, with only a thread of intellectual gamesmanship persisting through the sinew of John Hargraves's lean and elastic prose. And when it turns up, what will The Testament actually be: a novel to end all novels, or a literary parlor game in which the narrator might unknowingly disassemble the work beyond reassembling in the course of pursuing the writer's carefully contrived clues?

Embedded in this worldly and comic scanning of his lifelong professional ecosystem is more than a trace of suggestion that this writer might also be clambering through a rat's nest of crafty verbal manipulations while running out of intellectual steam. And writers of a certain age who sense any susceptibility to late-onset writer's block might prefer to keep their reading glasses aimed a little short of its mocking, if somewhat scary, journey through all their doubts, delusions, and stubborn down-to-the-last-instant dreams.

Edith Alston is an editor and writer in New York.