The Little Book
Release date: 08/01/2008
A major BEA galley to grab, this debut from retired California private school headmaster Edwards pulls a Back to the Future on the Vienna that produced The Interpretation of Dreams and, eventually, Mein Kampf —with a little Bill & Ted thrown in for good measure.
The subtitle of Edwards's Twain-indebted debut, written over the course of 30 years, might be “A California Yankee in Doctor Freud's Court.” Following a physical assault, Stan “Wheeler” Burden is precipitated into the past—1897 Vienna, to be exact—from 1988 San Francisco. Wheeler has been a teenage baseball star and famed rock 'n' roller, but he's dreamed of Vienna since his prep school days, where his teacher, Arnauld Esterhazy, instilled a love of the city's gilded paradoxes. Vienna of 1897 is indeed hopping: Freud is discovering the Oedipus complex, Mahler is conducting his symphonies, and the mayor, Karl Lueger, is inventing modern, populist anti-Semitism—which the young Hitler will soon internalize. Making this a true oedipal drama, Wheeler's father and grandparents come to town, too, all at different ages, and with very different agendas. Edwards has great fun with time travel paradoxes and anachronisms, but the real romance in this book is with the period, topped by nostalgia for the old-school American elite, as represented by the we-all-went-to-the-same-prep-school Burdens. This novel ends up a sweet, wistful elegy to the fantastic promise and failed hopes of the 20th century. (Aug.)