cover image The Stone Lion

The Stone Lion

William Eisner. Permanent, $29.95 (341p) ISBN 978-1-57962-312-8

Little of significance happens in this meandering novel of the early 1980s decline and revival of a small electronic components maker in Cambridge, Mass. In his new novel (after Fault Lines), Eisner's contrived characters rarely leave a thought unexpressed. John Lowell, the aging founder of the decaying Electronic Technologies, is a constant dialogue of corporate aphorisms, platitudes, and off-putting egomania. Lowell's estranged daughter, Catherine, likens dog droppings on the street to "a hieroglyph of disorder and ruin," and the patriarch's distaste for a gaudy trade show booth is a gloomy metaphor for life itself. From the novel's tedious external conflict%E2%80%94Lowell's products are outdated, poorly made, and threatened by a German competitor%E2%80%94to the superficial portrait of an alienated man trying to make peace with his life's work, his daughter, his mistress, and himself, little will illicit sympathy. Fringe characters are used only to set up dusty jokes or ill-conceived subplots, including a questionable disquisition on race, an executive's wife's role as mouthpiece for classical quotations, and a taxi driver moonlighting as a Dante scholar. Work plays a vital role in American lives, but it doesn't create compelling fiction when one of the most gripping plot points is a decision between cutting a stock dividend or selling the company. (Feb.)