cover image On the Edge

On the Edge

Edward St. Aubyn. Picador, $16 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-04601-7

New Agers beware! St. Aubyn’s take on the search for enlightenment as a cure for modern malaise is razor sharp and maniacally clever. The novel focuses on a handful of self-proclaimed spiritual evolvers: Adam, the gay guru who frequently changes credos but consistently champions what he thinks is globally significant; Brooke, the embarrassingly rich, needy guru-subsidizer; Kenneth, the shaman of “Streamism,” who is embarrassingly dependent on Brooke; Peter, the English banker who chucks married life to chase after Sabine, the gender-bending sex goddess, only to fall for restless, slightly guilt-ridden, totally available Crystal; an older couple hoping to rejuvenate their love life; plus other assorted fulfillment seekers and would-be providers. Parallel spiritual journeys begin at a San Francisco dinner party and come together at an Esalen tantric workshop. The joy of reading this novel derives not from the story but the storytelling. Fluent in new age techno-babble, with its echoes of Eastern religions, California lifestyles, and millennial egocentrism, St. Aubyn (who satirized the world of literary prizes earlier this year with Lost for Words) flaunts pitiless humor in scenes such as when Sabine’s alter ego Poly attempts to achieve nirvana. After its exhaustive and exhausting catalogue of lofty aspirations, some readers will resent the novel’s descent into a graphically physical climax; others will root for the divinity seekers to find satisfaction, however temporary and however delusional. (Oct.)