‘Dinner at the Center of the Earth’

34919415David L. Ulin at the LA Times:

Nathan Englander is a fabulist: That’s the first thing to keep in mind. Even when he’s trafficking in the naturalistic — in his story “The Wig” from “For the Relief of Unbearable Urges” or in the magnificent collection “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank” — he aspires to the lesson of the parable.

“Wouldn’t I hide you?” he writes in the latter, channeling Raymond Carver and the Holocaust. “Even if it was life and death — if it would spare you, and they’d kill me alone for doing it? Wouldn’t I?” That such questions are being asked in the pantry of a suburban house in Florida is the point entirely; we never know where our fables will come from or what form the allegory might take.

A similar sensibility marks “Dinner at the Center of the Earth,” Englander’s second novel (his first, “The Ministry of Special Cases,” came out in 2007): a kaleidoscopic fairy tale of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation … or its inverse. Shifting fluidly among characters and settings, the book divides its action between 2002 and 2014.

The central character, if we can call him that, is Prisoner Z, a young American Jew-turned-Israeli operative who betrays his mission (or does he?) for a larger cause. That we do not understand, until late in the novel, what this means suggests the complex dance that Z must undergo.

more here.