cover image All That Man Is

All That Man Is

David Szalay. Graywolf, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-1-55597-753-5

Szalay (London and the South-East) delivers a kaleidoscopic portrayal of nine men at various stages in their lives, each in the throes of extraordinary change. Despite their diverse circumstances, they are all somehow connected, engaged in a search for relevance and—dare they even consider it—meaning. English teenagers Simon and Ferdinand arrive in Berlin with competing ideas of how best to enjoy their time abroad; Bérnard, working halfheartedly in his uncle’s window shop outside Lille, France, experiences a life-altering holiday at a Cyprus beach resort; Kristian, a successful Danish tabloid editor, brings down the country’s defense minister after an indiscretion; Aleksandr, a disgraced Russian oligarch, contemplates suicide; an aging diplomat considers his mortality while recuperating from a heart operation in an Italian villa and notes, in what could be the book’s tagline, “How little we understand about life as it is actually happening. The moments fly past, like trackside pylons seen from a train window.” Without exception, the stories—subtle, seductive, poignant, humorous—bear witness to the alienation, self-doubt, and fragmentation of contemporary life; each succeeds on its own while complementing the others. Szalay’s riveting prose and his consummate command of structure illuminate the individual while exploring society’s unsettling complexity. In 2013, Szalay was named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. This effort exceeds even that lofty expectation. (Oct.)