The protagonist of this novel, Stephen, twice exiled, first from his birthplace, Hungary, and then from the United States as a Vietnam draft resistor who settles in Montreal, Quebec, becomes obsessed with W.H. Auden's poem, 'Mus?e des Beaux Arts' and Bruegel's painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, an obsession about the nature of suffering and art that leads to his attempted suicide and to the subsequent chaos of his life. Upon his discharge from a mental institute, he attends several sessions with his psychiatrist with whom he has a comically adversarial relationship wherein they explore his false reliance on literature as the only way to define and relate to the world. Told through the first- person narrator, the novel explores the nature of suffering, of authenticity, and of the value of the written word as Stephen reflects on his past life, the dissolution of his marriage, and his abiding yet potentially destructive passion for books. After his discharge from the mental institute and while undergoing therapy and merciless self-evaluation, Stephen receives a mysterious phone call that leads him to an exploration of his failed relationships with women and a final surprise resolution to his search for meaning and redemption. Set primarily in Montreal, the novel also travels to the places of Stephen's past: the Hungary of his childhood, Europe, the United States, and the Montreal of his youth through his memories and reflections. Despite its comic undertone, the novel explores the illusions we construct to provide value to our lives, the nature of love and the erotic, and the path towards compassion and meaning.
Zsolt Alapi is a short story writer, editor, and critic whose stories, articles, and reviews have appeared widely in Canada, the U.S., Great Britain, and France. Born in Budapest, Hungary, Alapi moved to Montreal, Quebec during the Vietnam War and finished his Ph.D. at McGill University. He taught literature at college and university for three decades and ran a micro-press, Siren Song Publishing, which featured writing from what The Guardian dubbed as 'The New Underground', edgy fiction that follows the path forged by the Beat and post-Beat writers of the latter part of the 20th century.