****Mystery Girl

Los Angeles, Hollywood

(photo source: farm9.staticflickr.com)

By David GordonThis book
was a gift, so I knew nothing about it when I opened its pages and fell in love with its surprises. Funny, complicated, well-drawn characters—B-movie cinephiles—living on the tattered fringes of Hollywood. “Some things are inexplicable. The human heart is one. Los Angeles is another,” said the New York Post review. The story involves failed experimental novelist, abandoned husband, and tyro-detective Sam Kornberg’s search for Mona Naught, a woman of elusive identity and tenuous reality.

The first-person narrator’s voice, occasionally uncertain, is consistently insightful and entertaining. Here’s a description of a cemetery in Mexico: “a city of tiny palaces that the good citizens had constructed to house their souls, like elaborate birdcages or the dollhouses of spoiled girls, far more splendid than their own mortal homes. After all, we are alive a short while, dead forever.” That last tiny zinger is what makes it.

Or this unpromising exchange with the Korean housekeeper of his prospective employer, when she answered his knock:

“Warren?” she asked. “No, I’m not Warren. I’m Samuel. Sam really. Sam Kornberg.”

            “You show warrant?”

            “Oh, warrant,” I said. “I thought you said Warren. No, no warrant. I still don’t know what you mean.” . . .


“No, not Norman either. I’m Sam.”

“No.” She spoke slowly, for my benefit, as if explaining a simple fact. “You are Mormon.”

“A Mormon? No, I’m not a Mormon. Sorry. Jewish, I’m afraid.”

Occasionally, the narration is interrupted by other narrators, with their critical observations about Sam and his shortcomings, which put his actions in a new light. Author Gordon, in a recent New York Times blog, describes writing as a “risky, humiliating endeavor.” No surprise, maybe that about his writing, the fictional Sam is skewering: “I myself could no longer stand to read these sorts of novels, the kind I couldn’t seem to stop writing . . . It seemed I had dedicated my life to a question whose point even I had forgotten along the way.” His detecting assignment from Solar Lonsky helped him find it again.