When I receive a book for review, my goal is to post when the book is available for purchase. Oftentimes that’s not possible if I receive the book too close to its pub date. Other times, books pile up and getting through everything in a timely manner is a challenge. I also know, as an author, that a late review is better than no review, so I try my best to finish the books I like, even if it means spending an entire day reading.
But every now and then I come across a book that I don’t want to rush through. One that is not only absorbing, but also thought-provoking. That’s what I encountered with Eshkol Nevo’s The Last Interview. I found myself reading perhaps a dozen or more pages a night, then wanting to pause and reflect.
This is the first book I’ve read by Nevo, an Israeli writer who has written five novels, one non-fiction, a collection of short stories, and a children’s book. His novel, Homesick, has won awards. He was born in Jerusalem, grew up there and in Haifa and Detroit. He’s named after his grandfather, Levi Eshkol, who served as the third prime minister of Israel, from 1963 until he died of a heart attack in 1969. Nevo lives in Israel and teaches creative writing at several universities.
As an author, Nevo most likely had to sit through many interviews. He uses those experiences as the plot line, so to speak, of his latest novel. The exchanges between an interviewer and Nevo’s fictitious author (although how fictitious is the question), begins with typical questions about writing, including the first two: “Did you always know you would be a writer?” And “What motivates you to write?” The answer to the first question: “No. But as some point in my adolescence, I realized that my masturbation fantasies were much more detailed than those of my close friends” alerts us that this will not be any run of the mill interview with pat responses.
While the writing process continues to be the focus, Nevo’s author begins to use those questions as a jumping off point to talk about other things – his marriage (falling apart), his children (estranged), his grandfather (revered) and politics (always controversial in Israel). His many speaking engagements are a frequent topic. He often faces hostile audiences and a few times fears for his life.
On one occasion, Rachel, a young woman who attends one of his talks, approaches him in the parking lot and asks for a ride. He’s concerned when she doesn’t have a destination and just asks him to “keep driving, my heart tells me we’ll find the person I’m looking for.” In the middle of this drive to nowhere, he flashes back to when he took his daughter and her dying dog to the vet. (This interval is so heartfelt it will impact anyone who has ever had to say goodbye to a pet.) Back to Rachel, who finally finds the person she’s looking for at a McDonald’s. Then a call from the man who sponsored his talk. A girl connected with the organization is missing – described as “problematic” and “unstable.” Rachel? As with so many exchanges, Nevo doesn’t so much provide an answer as he does raise more questions. He drops these “mysteries” like pebbles throughout the book. One reason there’s no rush to turn pages before we can fully explore various outcomes.
There’s a humorous exchange involving the possible film adaptation of one of his books. The interviewer has gotten the ball rolling, making absurd assumptions about who will fund the film, where it will be filmed, and who will star. “I hope it’s okay with you that I’ve already called Gal Gadot’s agents,” he says. (For those living on Mars the past few years, Gal Gadot who stars in the Wonder Woman films, the newest premiering in theaters and streaming Christmas Day, is Israeli.) The author objects, pointing out that the heroine in his book is “small and shy,” unlike Gadot. Whether Nevo has ever has to save his own novels from being marginalized in a rush to the big screen, we don’t know.
At other times the answer has nothing to do with the question asked. “How did the idea of your last book come into being?” leads to a long exchange dealing with the Transportation Ministry over a suspended license.
Nevo’s author is a tortured writer. He doesn’t fully live in the present but observes activity from the sidelines, using what he sees as fodder for his books. Although he attempts to alter facts so those he writes about won’t recognize themselves, he fails to do that with his daughter, Shira, leading to a long and painful estrangement. Many writers, I’m sure, will recognize their methods and perhaps feel a measure of guilt – or maybe not.
Nevo examines the bond that exists between the author and his lifelong friend, Ari, who is dying of cancer. But the most poignant parts of the book are those that deal with the author’s marriage. When he looks back, either because of a question or unprompted, his relationship with Dikla starts out as a passionate love affair, cooling over time. Although a communicator, Nevo’s author seems unable, or perhaps unwilling, to have a meaningful dialogue with the person he cares most about. Even when she initiates sex one evening, then turns away and goes to sleep, he lets the opportunity pass by.
The Last Interview is in some ways a puzzle. The answers are not chronological and I found myself having to go back a few times to connect the dots. The picture nearly comes together in the end (we learn the impact of those masturbation fantasies), but the missing pieces hint that the author’s story is just beginning.
The Last Interview
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