I couldn’t resist the title when I saw The Poser by Jacob Rubin and, when I read the publisher’s description, I found the concept intriguing because so many possibilities sprang to mind. Rubin has quite a gift for writing about the human condition. This fable is set in a satirical country much like the U.S. but not. It’s set in a past which felt like the 1930’s or 1940’s, but it may not be the past at all since this is an alternate reality – not alternate in the fantasy sense but one that sets the context and bolsters the content dramatically. I predict The Poser is going to make some award lists, so be sure to enter our giveaway if it sounds like your kind of read.
Please note: Some reviewers have found The Poser to be quite funny. What I believe should be disclosed is that the humor it contains is based on pathos. Some of our best humor comes out of pathos, e.g. Charlie Chaplin. So, if The Poser contains humor, it is dark humor. I’m only disclosing that so you don’t have unrealistic expectations about this being a laugh-a-minute novel.
Giovanni Bernini was born with a gift. Even as an infant, he could and often did perfectly mirror those around him. It astonished his mother and she loved this gift of his so she praised and encouraged it. As he grew, he learned that others didn’t necessarily appreciate it but there wasn’t much he could do about that by then because he really couldn’t help himself.
You see, Giovanni had the innate ability to almost instantly perceive the thread that runs through everyone, that thread which makes them uniquely them. As soon as he saw it, and we’re taking micro-seconds here, he could mentally grasp it and make it his so that he became an uncanny mirror of that person. It was second nature to him and he didn’t always realize he was doing it until it was done.
“When I was four, for instance, Great Uncle Arthur, Mama’s only living relative, visited us from out west. A sigh punctuated each effort of his limbs, and the old man’s kiss he gave Mama sounded like tape being ripped from a wall. ‘Put it there,’ he said, throwing out his hand.
‘You heard me, pardner, put it there,’ I answered.
‘I heard about this,’ Arthur said, turning to leave minutes after arriving.
Mama jumped in front of him. ‘You can’t, Arthur. He’s just – ‘”
Seriously, Giovanni really could not stop himself from doing it. By the time he entered school, it was second nature. This talent or gift could be highly entertaining but people like his school teachers were less than thrilled when he spontaneously impersonated them, and not always at the best times. Giovanni began to believe his gift might be a curse since it cost him friends and made his school life pretty miserable. Still, his mother stood up for him with school officials and waved away any concerns he or others had about what he did. As far as she was concerned, he was brilliant and it was their problem if they couldn’t see that.
After high school, he takes a job in a nearby coastal town as a train ticket seller. And that is when Giovanni meets a man who will change his life, Maximilian Horatio, a.k.a. Max. Max, whose real background has mostly been working with freak-show performers in a circus, represents himself as a talent scout, looking for talent to represent. He thinks Giovanni could be a gold mine with the right break.
“He [Max] wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. ‘You’re Giovanni Bernini, no? I’ve heard of your talent, and I think there’s money in it. And after money come the other treats – women, fame, girl fun…but let’s get out of this goddamn sun. Discuss it at my place. Just an hour of your time?’…
I focused on knitting my brow.
‘No, an imitation like that – you do a dead-on imitation like that with no warning and someone will slap you. Hell, they might wait for you to fall asleep and urinate on you. But do it on a stage, do it for an audience, and they’ll piss themselves.’…’What’s a stage?’ he asked me.
‘I don’t think I know,’ I said in my ticket seller’s window voice. I couldn’t believe how much effort it took me not to do [imitate] him.’
‘A set of quotation marks. On a stage, you’re not saying anything as you. You’re saying, What if I said this. Now I’m willing to bet you’ve been living a what-if kind of life all along while everyone around you’s been saying and doing, getting in their cars and drinking cherry soda.’ He lifted his gaze toward the low, lifeless buildings. ‘What do you say we get out of the goddamn heat?’
I couldn’t say no to him. What I mean is, I was physically incapable. I was like a moon in the orbit of a bullying planet.
‘Okay,’ I said.
He patted my back so hard I rattled. ‘Excellent! Excellent!’”
So Max and Giovanni head off to the City to show off Giovanni’s talent and make him a star. After a few bumps in the road, Max finally gets Giovanni booked at a club and the audience loves his “act.” Soon Giovanni is on his way to becoming a big celebrity and Max is thrilled.
And this story would make a fine fairy tale if it ended there with a And they lived happily ever after finale, but life is never like that. Giovanni, in his youthful naiveté, really believed if he achieved acceptance on stage then his life would be perfect. But being a celebrity is very different from the kind of love and acceptance he thought he would receive. Life always has some interesting tricks up its sleeve, so this story has just begun…
In many ways, Giovanni is all of us. Adults really are just big children, making it up as they go along. As children we learn how to be from those around us, using enormous antenna to pick up the slightest nuances and mimicking every move of the adults around us. As we grow up, we just get better and smoother. Everyone feels like a poser at one time or another, even if they can’t consciously admit it to themselves. And that is the beauty and genius of this novel. It peels back the layers and exposes the satirical truth about the condition of humanity – we’re all making it up as we go along. That said, it’s much easier to read about a mythical character doing that than to look at it in our own mirror. Yikes!
Jacob Rubin’s uncanny ability to expose the underbelly of the human condition in a way that is entertaining, even if it is cringe-worthy at times, is why I believe The Poser is likely to end up on all kinds of book award lists. I could be wrong – we’ll see. On some levels I really enjoyed this satirical psychological novel but I’ve got to tell you that it also pushed some uncomfortable buttons that I admit needed pushing – as it’s intended to do. Artful? You betcha! I don’t think it’s everyone’s cup of tea and I do think it’s worth reading, whether you want to stick to the surface-level tale or dive into its many layers underneath. If you think it might be an interesting read, I encourage you to enter our super simple giveaway below.
Can’t wait to read it?
The Poser was published on March 17, 2015, so it’s available from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks).
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One lucky reader will win an ARC (advance readers copy) of The Poser by Jacob Rubin!
1) The deadline for entries is Saturday night, 5/2/2015, at 11:59pm EDST. No entries after that date/time will be eligible.
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