Brian Joseph,
The Gift of Gabe
(Aventine, 2005)

Some books are hard to review. It's not that those books are too horrendous to review (or too good in some cases). It's not that those books create such an emotional feeling within the reviewer that he or she no longer feels objective (like a doctor falling in love with a patient). It's because sometimes, as with my experience with Brian Joseph's The Gift of Gabe, a reviewer has trouble sometimes making up one's mind about the book. Is it good or isn't it? That's the question. Maybe by the end of this review, I'll know where I stand. Let's see.

The Gift of Gabe is about a man who meets an anthropology professor with some wild ideas about God, reality, perception, society and art -- all of which he tries to explain to the narrator through the use of lyrics from songs by the Beatles and Jethro Tull. Through the course of the book, our narrator humors Gabe, the professor, and tries to decide whether or not he believes what he's hearing.

First of all, The Gift of Gabe is predictable, monotonous and oftentimes dense. The novel reads as though it is a graduate student's master's thesis read by one character to another. Joseph doesn't just break the rule "show, don't tell" but drops a piano on it from a 15-story building. Every chapter is the same. It begins with the narrator discussing a book he has read, he shows up at Gabe's house, they eat junk food together, Gabe talks about Beatles songs and God, and then he gives the narrator another book to read. The book, I suppose in an effort to save money and avoid litigation, refrains from printing song lyrics, book excerpts or any other copyrightable works, which leaves an unfamiliar reader sitting in the dark concerning the concepts. As far as novels go, Brian Joseph has a lot to learn about plotting, setting, characterization and pacing.

Having said all of that though, I really dug this book. Joseph's understanding of consensus reality, theology and philosophy is rather profound, and his method of using song lyrics to illustrate classic philosophical ideas is effective (I happen to be a huge Beatlemaniac, so it was easy for me to follow the character's conversation concerning the meaning behind the "tree" in "Strawberry Fields Forever" and scores of other Beatle references). The modern dissection of the perennial philosophy comes across very effectively; I think Joseph would make a great instructor and that The Gift of Gabe works better as a textbook than a novel.

Here's the bottom line: If you're looking for a quick read, something to take your mind off of your daily troubles, and a world of make-believe, then this is NOT your book. But if you're a more inquisitive person, someone who asks the questions that great thinkers like Plato, Aristotle and John Lennon asked, then The Gift of Gabe is a good way to spend an afternoon.

by Gregg Winkler
23 September 2006

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