|Published by Melville House. Brooklin and London|
Sophia is written in staccato sentences. In short paragraphs. Or longer ones; around three or four to a page. Episodically and spasmodically and disjointedly they add up to a story: The Great American Adventure of the Right Reverend Alvis T. Maloney. Like Fonda and Hopper almost half a century ago. Maloney tells it in the first person and in the present tense, and he speaks for all: Finger and Tuesday, Al and Hal, Darling, Nono and Eli the chess-player, and eventually Sophia. It breezes down to New Orleans.
Friends, enemies and incidents - and some chess references - along the way are interspersed with thumbnails of the martyrdom of Saints, such as St. Sebastian and Joan of Arc. Here's a short one: "St.Dirk (St.Dirk? - never heard of him) escapes from prison and stops to rescue his pursuer who has fallen into a frozen lake. Then is captured, tortured, and killed." These Saints suffer for their convictions. Dodgy Rt. Rev. Alvis T. Maloney risks conviction also.
ATM (as Bible, himself, writes here and there) dispenses the storyline: boozing, phantasing about sex, loving Darling, and fleeing from assasin Cataract, who's blind. Really and with rage - he's out to get them. They escape by boat back up to the Statue of Liberty, with Cataract in hot pursuit, for the denouement.
Eli is the chess-man. In fact he's a chess genius and a hustler, with Maloney as "barker and manager. I only take 10%". Eli wins a tournament.
Eli, you've won first place and we hold the trophy high. This newspaperman wants to do a story on you.Thanks Eli.
Eli, what's your overall strategy?
To kill the king.
What do you say to all those kids out there who want to be a chess champion like you?
Kill the king.
We get an actual game in Chapter 12 (there's only one more after that) when the moves are a stand-in for a show-down with their nemesis. Each pair of moves is interwoven with an allusive commentary on the game, ambiguous here and there with the action in the plot. Some extracts:
e4 e5...What's Cataract doing here, Eli. Walk me through it. Control the center...f4 exf4...He moves a pawn, a crust punk, to Lincoln Square. We capture, make him make our beds...Bc4 Qh4+...They send a Texas runaway to Murray Hill...Kf1 b5...We're playing for our lives here, you say, Eli...[and the game ends]...Nxg7+ Kd8...I know this game, you say, Eli. He's already won...Qf6+ Nxf6...Be7# Checkmate.Yeah, we chess players know that game. Using it as a plot device must mean something about immortality. And sainthood. Quite what a non-chesser will make of it is for them to say: "..a real howl of a book.." says one; ..."Full of small miracles.." says another; "an elliptical, provocative, novella" says one more. All on the back cover.
Not my cup of tea, in spite of some good one-liners. Something in me feels, though, that the author might have explained, for the benefit of the general reader, what Eli seemed to know: the provenance of that game.
...to do with Chess Index