Published by Random House
Publication date: September 5th 2017
I’m a fan of detail in my fiction. I love it whether it’s literary (Donna Tartt) or historical (Alison Weir, Ken Follett), but when it isn’t specific to the story and is in fact an extrapolation of some minor concept, it can be exhausting. This means I left Salman Rushdie’s The Golden House feeling that the book was 800 pages long when it was actually only 380. Why? Because Rushdie has a brilliant mind so crammed with dazzling thoughts that they can sometimes take over the page. Which isn’t to say that those thoughts are unnecessary, because they’re not, but while current events provide the backdrop for the novel, they often take over center stage.
There is a story in The Golden House and it’s a doozy. In 2009 Nero Golden (not his original name) comes to America with a lot of money and three unusual sons. Petya, the oldest, is somewhere on the autism spectrum and agoraphobic. Apu thinks of himself as an artist and wants to live accordingly (but still on Daddy’s dime). Dionysus (D) is gender conflicted. Beyond those details everything about them is a mystery: their real names, where they come from, and where they got their money. They move into a mansion in an exclusive neighborhood in Manhattan and soon become an object of fascination for René, a young man with dreams of becoming a filmmaker who lives in the neighborhood. He decides the family, with all its secrets, would be the perfect subject for a documentary, but the closer he gets to them the more tangled his life becomes with theirs. By the time The Golden House ends nothing will be as it began.
Rushdie is masterful in his ability to pinpoint and then skewer all things controversial. That he does it with a trenchant wit is one of the reasons I have always loved his writing. This laser-like ability is still evident in The Golden House but, maybe because we are so far down a rabbit hole of the absurd in America right now, it consumes the novel, leaving the plot buried in tiny pieces amidst heaps of razor sharp, shiny prose about current events—namely a man known as the Joker who makes his way into the White House.
It’s all over-the-top, but one area where Rushdie never loses control is his command of language. Even when I’d lost the storyline, paragraphs like this one made me swoony with their eloquence.
How does one live amongst one’s fellow countrymen and countrywomen when you don’t know which of them is numbered amongst the sixty-million-plus who brought the horror to power, when you can’t tell who should be counted among the ninety-million-plus who shrugged and stayed home, or when your fellow Americans tell you that knowing things is elitist and they hate elites, and all you have ever had is your mind and you were brought up to believe in the loveliness of knowledge, not that knowledge-is-power nonsense, but knowledge is beauty, and then all of that, education, art, music, film, becomes a reason for being loathed…
Spot-on as they may be, thoughts like these make it clear that, even with their money, flamboyant lifestyle, and secrets, Nero Golden and his sons can’t compete with what’s really on Rushdie’s mind.