Rebecca Miller's "Jacob's Folly" comes as a compete surprise. Unexpectedly brilliant, a sharp blow to the side of the jaw is pretty much the greatest sensation a novel can offer up. So forget that she is married to the genius that is Daniel Day Lewis and that her father is playwright Arthur Miller -- that might compound her smart choices, but her prose compounds her brilliance truly. And then there is her winking eye that somehow cannot fade from my mind's eye.
The two stories run concurrently. One takes place in a distant Paris of somewhere around 1700 and the other is right this moment in New York -- Long Island, to be precise. What connects them is what's interesting in itself, not just a narrative ribbon of some kind that fledges and kisses them; no it's the very smart housefly. A French, and Jewish, housefly that has come reincarnated complete with magical realism special powers that gets used for some concerning endeavors. Although this quasi-religious smacked fly isn't as innocent as you might like him to be, he connects the characters as he sucks, sucks, sucks with a tiny feeler on their eyelids as he reflects on his previous life impacting this current scene. Of course, the housefly, a Jewish peddler I admittedly forgot to mention, can hear the thoughts of the visits -- making for some interesting "fly on the wall" type thoughts throughout this meandering novel.
Miller, known for her work "The Ballad of Jack and Rose" and "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee," has the flair to bring humor to something so deeply desperate -- a bondage that comes from a religious choice that might prevent some dreams that cross over set out boundaries. You might read happily along and have some thoughts like "the chances of oxygen ever reaching the characters is just an absurdity" and then it happens and an implausible situation is mended with some of the most crafty wiggles in narrative. Characters in Miller's universe can straddle religion, history, culture and everything that splinters from these marrowbones of life. That's the beauty of fiction; it can go anywhere that your mind allows it to flow. Miller, holding a sort of cup of life, happily pours this deliciousness all over you -- a holy water rinse.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux