cover image Little Caesar

Little Caesar

Tommy Wieringa, trans. from the Dutch by Sam Garrett. Grove/Black Cat, $15 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2049-6

As Wieringa%E2%80%99s second English-language novel (after Joe Speedboat) begins, down-and-out musician Ludwig Unger returns to coastal Kings Ness, England, where the houses are in constant danger of tumbling into the sea and the rabbits are all inexplicably diseased, making it immediately clear that we%E2%80%99re in surreal territory despite the lucidity of the narration and prose. From his perch at a hotel lounge piano where he performs schmaltzy standards, Ludwig tells his tale: upon discovering that his mother was actually Eve LeSage, %E2%80%9Cthe Grace Kelley of porn,%E2%80%9D Ludwig, then 21, traveled to L.A. to confront her, only to witness her Las Vegas comeback after two decades out of the spotlight. Longing for less radical expressions of love from his mother, Ludwig goes with her and her production company to Vienna and Prague. Eve%E2%80%99s all-consuming sexuality makes a liability of Ludwig at every turn, but it%E2%80%99s an unforeseen problem with her attempt at a career revival that propels Ludwig to flee to Panama, where he encounters the sinister father who abandoned the family. Although perfectly charming as picaresque, the tragedy of Unger%E2%80%99s plight registers just as strongly as its understated oddness. There are plenty of precedents for the novel-as-game (fellow Dutch author Cees Nooteboom, for instance) but in Little Caesar, Wieringa plays for keeps. (Oct.)