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.
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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
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