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Jewelry Talks : A Novel Thesis Hardcover – June 26, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Klein, a literary critic best known for his audacious deconstruction of the popular mythology surrounding cigarette smoking (Cigarettes Are Sublime), offers an equally provocative first novel. The work, written in the hybrid style of a letter and a treatise, and devoid of dialogue, carries an "introduction" by its narrator, Abby Zinzo, who calls it both "a novel thesis" and "an anti-memoir." Abby inhabits the transgendered world where one's sex is almost mathematically calculated as the sum of one's fetishes. Officially, he's a "TransGendered-Bisexual-fully-Cross-Dressed-TransVestite-woman." At Harvard, Abby started a thesis about Diderot's famous pornographic classic, Les Bijoux indiscrets which can be translated as The Talking Jewels. In Diderot's case, jewels were a metaphor for female genitalia. Abby takes Diderot's metaphor seriously, entwining a discussion of the polymorphously perverse around the history of brooches, rings and other opulent ornaments. These objects have genealogies, and Klein is most interesting when summing up the adventures of some famous diamond or diamond hunter; as a lagniappe, the text caries photos of famous jewels and fashion icons. The third braid in Abby's story consists of his record of his affair with an Algerian immigrant, Amad, a "boyfriend from hell... rich, ugly, and female." A child called Zeem was born to the coupling of this alternating current of a couple, and given to Abby's sister, Zanzibar, to raise. Though genuinely clever and imaginative, the work doesn't fit conventional notions of a novel. While Klein attempts a lightness of tone, it's hedged by nervous pedantry. Moreover, his discussion of the dialectic between femininity and jewelry is flawed by his relentless focus on a restricted set of fashionable, rich women, which unconsciously leads him into unjustified and even absurd generalizations about the entire sex. (July)Forecast: While its audience will be limited, this book will appeal to fans of Wayne Koestenbaum and Margery Garber who enjoy cultural criticism adulterated with pop culture references.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The eccentric Abby Zinzo, narrator of this "novel-thesis," has a name that covers the range of the alphabet, just as his character embodies the rainbow of gender identifications. This is the story of a bisexual transvestite (not transsexual) and his passion for adornment. Interwoven with his story and that of his gender-ambiguous lover, Amad, is a compulsively rewritten college thesis about jewelry. From Louis IV to Princess Di, from Yves St. Laurent to Elizabeth Taylor, no diamond is left unturned in this remarkable, and remarkably readable, treatise on the nature, function, and value of jewelry. Written to the niece (or is she?) that the narrator has never met, this strange and compelling novel-thesis deconstructs gender roles with a hilarity and ironic distance that allows us to laugh at ourselves. Readers with no interest in jewelry may not be hooked by Klein's passion for jewelry and the celebrities who wore it, but by upending the gendered role of jewelry in this strange book, Klein accomplishes something wonderful and even important. John Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Series: Age of Unreason
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (June 26, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679441980
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679441984
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,467,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Eileen G. on October 29, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The narrator of this odd and compelling story is by turns wise, funny, catty, obnoxious, and downright fascinated by celebrity gossip. He's savvy regarding semiotics and the arcana (and meanings) of unconventional sexuality. Fashion, money, and French and German literature and philosophy are important, too. There are discussions of death and customs around it, and suicide, too. You will learn more about gems and jewelry than you might have imagined possible (including just why size really does matter, and in the world of gems, what it says about the giver and the wearer). There are hundreds of topics in this story that Klein somehow exhilaratingly ties together, including tattooing and piercing.
The narrator has chosen an heir in "Zeem," a young woman who will inherit his amazing trove of jewels. He doesn't know her, but he has plenty to tell her, in a variety of registers. He's by turns a fast-talking New Yorker, sometimes professorial, and sometimes almost naïve. He can be efficient and technical, and sometimes he writes with a luminous clarity and beauty. He talks about his personal sexual history, crossdressing, and the worlds of the transgendered - and jewelry and more jewelry.
There's a good variety of methods used (fiction, the essay, and a lot of direct quotation from other sources) to discuss famous women, famous jewelry, theories of gender, sexuality, love, language, style, and money - along with gossip, innuendo, and a lot of information (factual and/or prejudiced) about gems and adornment, and erotics - to make an assortment of points. There's an attention to detail that is sometimes a pleasure, and sometimes (as when discussing each of Elizabeth Taylor's husbands) tedious.
This story is much more than a catalogue of great jewelry and is never less than strangely interesting.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By sweetmolly on December 30, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This novel is in the form of an extended letter to the writer's supposed niece. Abby Zinzo plans to leave his exquisite jewelry collection to her and sets about telling her what it is and what it means to him. No doubt this sounds prosaic and a bit academic. Think again!
Abby has had an exciting, erotic life, and he is anxious to share the highlights. Right away, I was nervous---"is he really writing all this to a 13-year old girl?" Apparently, yes. Gender is a very slippery thing to Abby; so much so, I was confused most of the time.
His erotic tales of derring-do are intermixed with some solid history on gems and their owners. The dual emphasis made the story line jerky and fragmented. He speaks with two different voices, and they never seem to mesh. I wish there had been some color plates of the jewelry he was describing. There were some grayed out, fuzzy pictures that were worse than nothing.
While Mr. Klein shows considerable jauntiness in his writing, I felt I had boarded the wrong train. I had the feeling throughout, that I just didn't quite "get it." Other readers might find this more enjoyable than I did. There is no denying Mr. Klein's cleverness.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Julieta Pedrosa Alves on April 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"A Novel Thesis" by Richard Klein is the worst book about jewelry ever. I'm chocked with the way it's written. Low level..
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