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Micah Reader in February 2019 by Brenda Levenson
Rarely used, Asymmetry is a word in search of a story, which Lisa Halliday provides with her first novel published in 2018. It has been called a masterpiece, and so beware of excessive praise lavished by literary figures and reviewers. Our readers’ reactions to “Asymmetry” were diverse and less exuberant.
The novel is composed of three parts. The two main characters in the first story are Ezra Blazer, a successful writer of a certain age allegedly modeled after Philip Roth, and Mary-Alice, a much younger woman who works as an editorial assistant in a prestigious publishing house, while trying to write a novel of her own. There is apparently a connection between her name, Alice, and Alice in Wonderland. What the connection is remains with the readers who understood it. Our group tried to make sense of the title Asymmetry, does it apply to the difference in ages between Ezra and Mary-Alice? To the difference in background and culture of the two? Or to the fact that one of the characters is successful while the other is struggling to achieve success as a writer? The stories are disconnected in content as well as in the writing style which is generally good. The middle story was found to be more interesting than the other two. It captured, said our leader, “the madness of politics…it is very real, thoughtful and compelling…real and immediate, not navel-gazing as the first story was.” But how did it relate to the first and third stories was puzzling, in spite of Ezra’s appearance in it. One of our readers offered a clue to the mystery, dispelling the confusion among many in our ranks.
Our discussion was more subdued than is normally the case. The word “gimmicky” was used several times, and that says it all. Lisa Halliday may have a great future, but for the time being she is not Tolstoy, Faulkner or Camus to name but three of the world’s literary giants.