Zoo Time: A Novel

  • Review
By – October 10, 2012

This is when you know you’re in deep sh*t as a writer,” declares Guy Able­man: when the heroes of your nov­els are nov­el­ists wor­ry­ing that the heroes of their nov­els are nov­el­ists who know they’re in deep sh*t.” Zoo Time winks at its own self-aware­ness but its con­cerns are seri­ous. In this wicked­ly fun­ny satire of pub­lish­ing Able­man is strug­gling might­i­ly to keep his bal­ance as a writer and a man while the ground shifts beneath his feet.

Able­man, in a fer­vid mar­riage with an aspir­ing writer, is at the same time besot­ted with his moth­er-in-law. That it’s illic­it doesn’t deter him; if any­thing it excites him more. He mean­while sus­pects his wife of spec­tac­u­lar infi­deli­ties, even with his own broth­er. Guy admits that jeal­ousy works for some men, espe­cial­ly if they’re writ­ers. My jeal­ousy was insep­a­ra­ble from my renewed cre­ative excitement.”

But sup­pose her inten­tions are actu­al­ly pure? What if his jeal­ous fan­tasies were base­less and the motives he sus­pect­ed were imag­i­nary? Can uplift­ing acts of sac­ri­fice serve as a sub­ject for art or would that be mere­ly pan­der­ing? As his world becomes increas­ing­ly for­eign to Guy, wish­ful think­ing and tor­ment­ing fears dis­tort his own sense of what is hap­pen­ing around him. He final­ly won­ders how clear­ly he, or any­one, can tell the dif­fer­ence between real­i­ty and his own fever­ish imagination.

Howard Jacob­son has good fun car­i­ca­tur­ing atti­tudes towards books. A provin­cial teacher pious­ly pro­fess­es, You nov­el­ists look into your hearts and see human­i­ty.” An author of col­or­ing books, remind­ed that col­or­ing-in isn’t actu­al­ly read­ing, explains it’s all about the way you look at read­ing.” An edi­tor announces that he wants to have a thou­sand sto­ry-apps ready to go for the mobile-phone mar­ket.” Under­ly­ing it all, though, is an abid­ing con­cern for the future of the lit­er­ary art in a com­mer­cial culture.

It is always a joy to read Jacobson’s prose, whose beguil­ing­ly casu­al tone belies its metic­u­lous con­struc­tion. This newest work con­firms yet again his sin­gu­lar abil­i­ty to weave com­e­dy, sex, ideas, and deep insight into irre­sistible storytelling.

Discussion Questions