cover image Zeno Was Here

Zeno Was Here

Jan Mark. Farrar Straus Giroux, $19.95 (327pp) ISBN 978-0-374-29664-3

Mark, the author of children's books and a collection of short stories, here makes a brilliant debut as a novelist. John McEvoy is a diffidently handsome high school English teacher in a London suburb, saddled with a clinging, obsessively jealous wife, Sarah, whom he has married out of pity. McEvoy is forced into painful self-scrutiny when, after seeing him on a highbrow TV talk show, a bitter ex-girlfriend sends him an autobiography containing a portrait of him in his younger days, written by a woman now in a mental institution. While showing the book to his novelist friend Geneva he encounters the strikingly plain poet Ruth Prochak, with whom his life will fatefully intertwine. As its title suggests, the novel is a philosophical argument, inquiring into the nature of fiction's quest for truth and its ascendancy over mere recollected fact. Akin to Zeno, the paradoxical Eleatic, founder of dialectics, this self-referential ""metafiction'' probes deeply into its own designs and strategies, advancing theories about itself and questioning and undermining its fictive reality as it proceeds. The device has proved tedious in other hands and has the ready potential to betray a novice's unsureness of touch, but here, endowed with Mark's formidable command of her medium, it enables a virtuoso performance. The reader is beguiled into suspending disbelief and is profoundly moved. (June)