The Double Life of Alfred Buber has more to do with loneliness and the very human search for contact and proximity, what is asked of the skin, of the body’s senses … David Schmahmann delivers a touching everyman story with erudite chic and understanding.
Exquisitely written, detailed, fierily emotional and yet completely cold and callous, The Double Life of Alfred Buber is a unique read that will settle around a reader like a cloying dust and linger, even after a long, hot shower, in the pores.
I’ve enjoyed two of Schmahmann’s earlier books (and reviewed Empire Settings and Nibble & Kuhn), and have a 3rd on my to-read list. Nothing prepared me for The Double Life of Alfred Buber. This book is literary fiction at it’s best — taut, well crafted, lovely prose, thoroughly engaging, which draws you into the character’s strange new world and leaves your reading landscape forever altered.
[Y]ou may suddenly pause and let out a joyous shriek of recognition if you’re familiar with T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” If this is the case, you may think you’ve been teased into an expanded version of “Prufrock’s” themes of longing and loneliness in a sordid world.... But the novel is also, unlike “Prufrock,” witty and absurdly tragi-comic…
…a truly remarkable literary creation… There’s a balance, a way of seeing and then expressing on the page, that sets Mr. Schmahmann’s work apart from what so many others have attempted and failed to accomplish—and what he manages to do with paper and ink. He rubs words together like sticks, as if to set things ablaze.
David Schmahmann has created a character with the vividness of J. Alfred Prufrock or Humbert Humbert. Buber’s obsessions and the carefully-guarded secret life he leads not only make for a compelling novel, they tell us much about a very widespread and hauntingly ordinary form of deceit.
Buber relates the facts of his life as they are visible to the community in which he is thought to be a fine, upstanding citizen ... but mostly he submits to living his own lie. "The irony is rich. I am so much less than I project myself to be, bear no resemblance to the man I have insisted people see me as," he says. An unusual morality play whose artful style veils the depravity of its protagonist.
Alfred Buber is one of those characters who achieves such an artful palpability that it is easy to imagine meeting him in other contexts. In Brussels this week, I think I might have glimpsed him near the Schuman roundabout. Impossible, ridiculous, even, but this is precisely the reward of successful fiction, which is more than a trick of mind. It makes consciousness more open to possibilities.
David Schmahmann’s The Double Life of Alfred Buber reads like a lost Nabokov novel…the prose is meticulously wrought, the plot deeply complex and psychologically layered….Where some novels radiate outward, this one spirals in on itself, turn by fascinating turn, exploring the inner life of a man distanced from both himself and reality by his own lies and a soul full of secret, shameful desires.
…Buber moves back and forth in time and place, to Boston, to Europe, to Bangkok, trying to figure out his life, wedded to both his personas, and as both his lives slowly unravel, he faces the consequence of his waffling. Schmahmann has captured desperation and love between unequals.
August 4th 2011, 7PM
Reading at Gibson's Bookstore
27 S. Main Street, Concord, NH
Watch David on NBC Kare 11 - Minneapolis, MN
Listen to a review of The Double Life of Alfred Buber by Jim McKeown on KWBU, NPR
David discusses sex scandals, Rep. Weiner and Buber on KMJ-FM 105.9 - KMJ-AM 580