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Alchemy Without Real Women

Debut whodunit still works


Jon Fasman is a writer whose strong grasp on his writing style and such a natural ability with his work, he makes The Geographer's Library a success, particularly for a first novel. This book is particularly refined and has a sense of solidity to it, which is unique, as we all know, among modern writers. Within the first 20 pages, the reader feels transported to the early 20th century, when writers had to keep a certain formality and structure to their work. Fasman's style often smacks of the writings of Graham Greene. Each character and moment is placed in such a way as to forward the plot and fill out the overlying themes within the novel. However, Fasman doesn't remain shackled to the formal writing style, working his pages into a frenzy at times, while still retaining authority over each sentence on the page

The Geographer's Library is an intelligent whodunit of multiple layers, pulling the reader through several different accounts, the foremost being from Paul, a reporter investigating a professor's unlikely death. Through Paul's exploration, the pages open up to many more styles, Fasman showing himself to be expert in epistolary style as well as his encyclopedia-like entries which read as easily as his dialogue.

Intertwining the heavy topics of alchemy and the rise and fall of the Communist Soviet Union, Fasman shows real literary prowess in his handling of this variety of subjects. What he creates pertaining to alchemy comes off the page sounding as if he teased it from apocryphal texts. He adds a sense of legend to his work, making each small story pertaining to the alchemist's fabled collection mythic in capacity. This blending of magical reality is so nice to see in a novel, and it swings the reader easily through the pages.

One would also assume Fasman to be an expert on Soviet culture as well as that of the nations surrounding it. When he writes of distant and Siberian nations, it's hard not to accept his fiction as fact. Part of this comes from his voice, which makes almost anything believable. He creates his world with such authority, such strong conviction, that there is little reason to question his modes.

One unfortunate shortcoming in Fasman's novel is his inability to draw a convincing female character. Too often, the women in The Geographer's Library act as crutches for other characters or the plot itself. His women are filled with the same quips and lack the descriptive integrity Fasman affords the males in his work. Even Hannah, the character the story is meant to eventually center around, retains her image as a glimmer of a woman rather than a full female character. Fasman has modernized the virgin aspect of the virgin/whore stereotyping to create females who are simply angels on earth. They may have sex, but they're still magical, blameless creatures. Even when Hannah is found to have had a part in a murder, the reader is unable to blame her; instead, Fasman guides the reader to an even higher respect for Hannah's misdeeds. In this case, the author simply needs to allow the women to be as human as the men.

This idol worshipping of women within Fasman's book just adds to the problems faced by females in modern contemporary literature. Too often semi-angelic women are drawn by male writers who want the characters to forward the romance within a novel or act as a support for an overarching metaphor. Females in literature rarely gain independence except under the female pen. Though women have gained heartier roles in books, they are still waiting to be humanized. A youthful writer like Fasman would do well to work harder to make all of his characters well rounded.

Overall, The Geographer's Library is a book to be appreciated. As a first novel, it's a huge success and a quality read. I expect Fasman is an author who will be heard of in the future.

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