Publisher: St. Martin's Press, March 2015
Genre: Literary fiction
First Line: Before halftime on Super Bowl Sunday, January 1986, my uncle Poxl came over.
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All his life, Elijah Goldstein has idolized his charismatic Uncle Poxl. Intensely magnetic, cultured and brilliant, Poxl takes Elijah under his wing, introducing him to opera and art and literature. But when Poxl publishes a memoir of how he was forced to leave his home north of Prague at the start of WWII and then avenged the deaths of his parents by flying RAF bombers over Germany during the war, killing thousands of German citizens, Elijah watches as the carefully constructed world his uncle has created begins to unravel. As Elijah discovers the darker truth of Poxl’s past, he comes to understand that the fearless war hero he always revered is in fact a broken and devastated man who suffered unimaginable losses from which he has never recovered. -Goodreads
Obviously, the premise of this book interested me right away. I've been trying to read more Jewish literature, and who wouldn't want to read about a Jewish bomber pilot? In addition to that, as I only found out once starting the book, it's a book within a book! YES. You end up reading Poxl West's entire memoir, Skylock, where he describes his life before an after World War II. This is interspersed with small chunks of Elijah, Poxl's nephew, reminiscing on his reaction to this book as a kid, along with his strained relationship with his uncle as he gets more and more famous.
I really liked the beginning of Poxl's memoir before he even goes to war. Torday writes some really excellent dialogue that's rich with subtext. His characters are vivid and varied. Once Poxl actually goes to war is when the story started to slow for me. Most of his time is spent reminiscing about a girl that he left behind and feeling regret. And it's not like subtle twinges of regret, it is him straight up saying over and over again that he shouldn't have left this specific person and that he can't stop thinking about her.
What's tricky about reviewing this book is that in the Elijah sections, he mentions the reviews of the memoir. They don't think the writing is great, it's slow, and there's too much sex. And those are all of my issues with it. Well, in addition to the characters getting a bit blander as time goes on. Anyway. Does this mean Torday has sneaked his way out of being criticized? I'm not sure. Perhaps the writing issues I had with it were on purpose, but does that excuse it entirely?
Despite my issues with the book, the ending is quite a twist that I didn't see coming. The plot takes a troubling turn and brings up a lot of questions for both Poxl, the veteran, and Elijah, the boy who idolizes him. I definitely liked where The Last Flight of Poxl West went and I would suggest reading it just for that. I continue to have some issues that are hard to reconcile, but I did mostly enjoy this tragic portrait of a man dealing with his past.
"She was on her knees. This is not a position to which I was accustomed to seeing my mother, who knelt for no one."
"If he wears the uniform long enough, even the most peaceable man may grow to be a soldier."
"Being itself becomes an attempt to skirt pain at all costs--when from the start that experience has been the siren informing us we are interacting with the world in the first place. And isn't that the experience of new love: knowing that once again it may end in just the pain it ended in the last time?"
"The further you get from a story whose moral you don't know, the harder it grows to tell it."
Outlandishness Rating: 3/10
Points for book in a book, but this was some pretty standard historical/literary fiction. Not that that's a bad thing!