Robert Boswell, Author . Knopf $24 (320p) ISBN 978-0-375-41237-0

Peter Ivanovich Kamenev, the aphorist/con man whose lie that he is 100 years old gives Boswell's new novel its title, claims that "mystery is the truth, history the lie." Kamenev, impoverished, lustful, deceitful, a celebrity intellectual, is coming to live with his daughter, Zhenya, in Hayden, Ill. Zhenya is a political scientist at Hayden University, for whom history is the only truth. Yet much to her chagrin, she is surrounded with mysteries, beginning with the death of her son, Philip, who hanged himself at 12. There is also the undetermined parentage of Petey, the son her daughter, Emma, bore at 14. Zhenya wants to forget these truths to go after her father's myth—she has compiled a file to undermine him. Morgan, Zhenya's husband, is less concerned with truth than integrity. He is a garbage man who, when Zhenya married him, was the heroic local union president, leading a successful strike. In the 10 years since Philip's death, he has resigned from his position and existed in a trance of melancholy, only roused from it by a crusade to keep his garbage truck partner, Danny Ford, out of prison. Boswell's treatment of the misfortunes of this eccentric household is reminiscent of the dilemma Emerson pointed out, long ago, in "Experience": the diminishment of grief feels like a failure to authentically commit to some loved other, yet grief's prolongation really is a failure to commit to others. Boswell's story relentlessly unfolds the logic of that dark insight. (Apr. 18)

Forecast:This is Boswell's best novel since Mystery Ride and yet another installment in his kaleidoscopic chronicle of the odd twists and turns of family life in modern America. His consistently excellent oeuvre has yet to yield commensurate sales, but extra attention from booksellers could help Century's Son cash in on what will undoubtedly be favorable reviews.

Reviewed on: 03/18/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 308 pages - 978-0-312-42231-8
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