Joshua Son of None by Nancy Freedman
While I quit reading only a few pages into Joshua Son of None, it’s not going onto the shelf of books I can’t bring myself to read. I can’t bring myself to write it off, but neither, at least right now, can I bring myself to read it. It’s going back onto the to-read pile.
It started off compelling enough, and Nancy Freedman has a strong voice and a deft command of the English language. But things got confusing in a way where I couldn’t tell if I was simple being dense or if the writing had spiraled out of control.
The premise is somewhat simple. An unnamed president, who is definitely John F Kennedy, is assassinated. Thor Bitterbaum is a doctor. He steals a bit of the president’s DNA and stores it so that he might clone the president. Despite being a Jewish atheist, Thor also has some sort of weird affinity for the Norse god of the same name. I couldn’t entirely tell if he merely likens himself to the god or if he’s somehow the modern embodiment of Thor.
And That’s all the set up I had walking into these next paragraphs.
The strength and daring of Thor stood off and kept at bay the talmudic scholar grandfather, Jacob Bitterbaum, and the learned rabbi, Solomon Bitterbaum. They shook long unscissored beads and consulted Yekuthiel Bitterbaum, patriarch of the family. But he had never heard of anyone called Thor, who daily waded rivers to sit in judgement under Yggdrasil, the world tree, defending both Midgard and Asgasrd, men and gods, from the chaos of the giants. His belt doubled his strength. He had gloves of iron and could toss a thunderbolt. The red-bearded one swung his club, and goats and wild boar ran to his side. In the Ragnarok, in the forest of Thorsmorsk he would fight the serpent and it was recounted that both would die.
No wonder the old Jews shook their covered heads. Thor brandished the swastika, symbol of Mjellnir, his hammer, which the dwarfs, out of spite, had made too short. They drew back, these pious Jews, murmured ancient prayers and swayed in the face of the assertion that this hero could shrive and hallow the dead. And yet the dead was so shriven that he would rise up in strength and life.
There I was, reclining by the pool, utterly baffled. Just a moment before Thor had been surreptitiously slipping the recovered DNA into a test tube, then wham. I re-read it, but that’s dense and awfully metaphorical and allegorical and I kinda wanted to look up more about Norse mythology to see if maybe then I could understand what was going on but I had intentionally left my phone in the car so I’d just read and swim and nap and not get sucked into wasting time on my phone.
So I pushed forward, and soon we were back in the real world, with Thor sneaking the DNA sample out of the hospital and thinking about his plans for human cloning. This last part gets technical, fast. Lots of scientists and their attempts at cloning are mentioned in rapid successful and I just wasn’t in the mood. It’s summer, it’s a billion degrees, and even if this is a short little thing I’m not sure I have the mental fortitude to be neck-deep in metaphors and scientific quotations from fictional scientists.
In terms of old dating cliches, though, I realize that this is my fault, not Joshua Son of None’s. I’m just not looking to get into anything too serious right now, but maybe later once I’ve read around a little bit and the weather is cooler and all I really want to do is settle down with a book for a few hours—then Joshua Son of None might end up back in my hands.
I hope we can remain friends.
Cover art by unknown.