Featured Reviews, VOLUME 5

Jim Krusoe – Parsifal: A Novel [Review]

Jim Krusoe - ParsifalRich Imagery and Hypnotic Prose

A Review of

Parsifal: A Novel

Jim Krusoe.

Paperback: Tin House, 2012.
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Reviewed by Matthew Miles.

I was drawn to Jim Krusoe’s novel Parsifal the same way as I was to Haruki Murakami’s  Kafka on the Shore: both synopses promised original storylines with unforgettable surrealist  imagery. While beautiful and vivid, I couldn’t completely connect to Murakami’s novel as more attention seemed directed at these images and not much at assigning them meaning. They seemed to exist only for the protagonist (or because of him) and for our admiration, like a series of abstract paintings strung together. The result was a lot of beauty for its own sake, and that’s fine, but in the end I didn’t know how to feel about the events or characters. It all seemed to exist solely for the protagonist, and that made me as the reader feel a bit left out.

Parsifal is surreal, lapses at times from prose to poetry, and even employs stream of consciousness, but in the midst of this the tone is emotionally grounded and realistic. Appliances, vehicles and other man-made wares rain from the sky as the earth shoots fire and ash upward. The first line of the book makes the terms clear: there is a war between the sky and the earth. This is treated as any real senseless event, as is much of the surrealism in this imaginative novel—there are reasons behind these events, but we may never know them. Far from a plot device or a villain, they serve as a backdrop to the titular character’s story. Following the mention of the war, the reader will find the following sentences:

Also, there are monsters.
Parsifal wonders if he is one of them.

In the midst of the story’s themes, the past, present, future and blindness, the word “monster” continues to make an appearance. As Parsifal muses about monsters, he always questions whether he is one. As Parsifal begins his quest, his thoughts reveal more of his past, and it begins to seem questionable as the story progresses. The reader begins to question what he did, and, along with Parsifal, what that says about him. What if the entire world as seen in this story is even his fault?

The quest, along with the main character’s birth and early life follows the framework of the legend and opera on which the novel is based. Convinced it is just the salve he needs to set his life right,  Parsifal journeys back to the forest in which he grew up to find a piece of his past. Who knows? It might even stop the war.

The cup, which his father called Fenjewla, and the woods, represent a connection to one parent Parsifal barely knew, his father, and a mother he thought he knew. He wonders if his troubled past was still better than the present, and if the former is the key to fixing the latter. His quest follows the conclusion that a concrete object connecting him to his past will make his world right again.

Far from a gimmick, the stream of consciousness form helps the viewer see the events and world through the protagonist’s eyes, and also allows the reader to see memories given perspective as events unfold. The reader is introduced to Joe, Parsifal’s therapist, early in the story, but why he needed a therapist isn’t revealed right away, nor is why the main character is drawn to libraries and librarians, or why he finds himself surrounded by blind people at all times. And there remains the question of monsters.

The plot and realistic character development of Parsifal are satisfying enough, but the prose alone, added to the imagery, make for a satisfying read. Parsifal is a pen repairman, and his descriptions of pens provide a concrete example of Jim Krusoe infusing mundane objects and statements with a sort of magic. Even functions have meaning for the main character, and the spare beautiful prose helps the reader to believe it. The use of poetic refrain allows the reader to pause and appreciate the beauty of the language while simultaneously considering the significance of the words. Besides being thoughtful and well-realized, this is a beautiful book.

Parsifal is also funny. I looked up the source material, and found out that Parsifal’s name is thought to mean “pure fool”. The main character is foolish, but not in stereotypical ways. An example comes to mind of his matter of fact reaction to technology when city dwellers demonstrated it, as opposed to the country bumpkin amazement they expected. A bumpkin he is not. Like many of us, his foolishness consists of an everyday blindness to the world and people around him. Along with the absurdist events, a lot of the humor is derived from this.

I didn’t have to read too far to learn what the author wants us to know about the original story. He allows glimpses of bits and pieces of it, bits and pieces that inform the main character’s quest. Familiarity with the original legend can be rewarding, but are by no means necessary to appreciate this story. The same could be said for Jim Krusoe’s other works. This was the first I heard of him, but after reading this I’m interested in seeking out his other novels. Like Kafka on the Shore, the rich imagery and hypnotic prose in Parsifal would have been enough. The author gave readers a gift by not stopping there, but by also adding rich characters and something to say. I can easily recommend this book to fans of surrealist fiction, poetry, and rich thought provoking storytelling.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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