cover image ZIFF: A Life?

ZIFF: A Life?

Alan Lelchuk, . . Carroll & Graf, $25 (432pp) ISBN 978-0-7867-1115-4

A writer on the skids must decide whether to betray his mentor, a Jewish giant in the world of letters, in Lelchuk's (Playing the Game) clever literary cat-and-mouse game. Daniel Levitan is the fading 60-year-old novelist whose career is in an extended slump when he gets a six-figure offer to write a tell-all biography about Arthur Ziff, the charismatic, libertine author who gave Levitan his first break (and is still alive and well). Enticed by the money, Levitan overcomes his reluctance to dish the dirt on his friend and plunges into the research. His first break comes when Ziff's ex-wife, a famous French actress, supplies him with a ready-made, typed copy of her journal, then takes Levitan to Ziff's purported favorite bondage club in Manhattan. A trip to Europe to meet one of Ziff's former lovers provides some unprovable stories about Ziff's scandalous sexual behavior. But the arrogant, inimitable Ziff fires back, threatening his former protégé with libel and then mocking Levitan in a savage short story that runs in a national literary magazine. The duel between biographer and subject culminates with a battle of the books: the publication of Ziff: A Life coincides with the appearance of Ziff's crowning work, a Holocaust novel. Lelchuk's sendup of literary catfights and author egos is often amusing, though the book could have been pared down, and there may be too many in-jokes for those who don't follow the works and exploits of aging American Jewish novelists closely. There will be speculation about Ziff's resemblance to a certain well-known writer. (Feb.)

Forecast:Look for mention of this novel in magazines that deal in literary gossip, which will undoubtedly fuel buzz and maybe sales.