Sunday, July 19, 2015

Review: "Book of Numbers" by Joshua Cohen

Book of Numbers, the new novel by experimental novelist Joshua Cohen, is very much an experiment, one that I could easily forgive if it was much, much shorter. Instead, the near 600-page length is at times insurmountable for the reader, who is likely to get as bogged down by the tech jargon as anyone who isn’t as computer savvy as Cohen himself. Reading it, I couldn’t help but be reminded of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, and his constant use of pharmaceutical and mathematical language that went over my head. Like that novel, Cohen tries to pepper his meandering story with lowbrow humor, but unlike Infinite Jest, it lacks any semblance of coherence. Throughout its long, sometimes insufferable length, you are on the Joshua Cohen train, and he doesn’t seem like someone who would know, or care, if you asked him to slow and possibly explain a thing or two. But I’ve got to say; I did like the beginning, where it reads more like Don DeLillo or Paul Auster with its unique New York setting. The main character is also called Joshua Cohen (a trope in books that I am downright tired of, no matter the book quality), who, after a failed publication of his first novel, is commissioned by Tetration, a web company much like Google, to ghost write the memoirs of its founder, also named Joshua Cohen, though he is referred to as Principal throughout. Leaving a rocky marriage and the ghost of a love lost on 9/11 behind, he is taken on a journey from places like Palo Alto to Dubai to Paris, as he finds out more about this omnipotent company. It’s hard for me to describe what happens, because I am not really sure. The book is very vague and gets bogged down on its own complexities. It is funny though, at times, describing the search history of Natalie Portman and the different kinds of porn people search for, but those only show up sporadically, and the reader is left feeling empty and confused as the narrator himself. I finished this book, because I am stubborn, but if you are an impatient reader, don’t expect to get very far.

Rating: 3/5

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